A Narration of the Scotch Emigrant in the year 1833

The following is a narrative written by Joanne (MacFadyen) Turner’s great great Uncle Malcolm F. MacKinnon of Churchill which gives us a detailed account of the hope and trepidation of a group of Scottish Emigrants sailing to Cape Breton and PEI in 1833. We estimate this piece was written in 1894. It would have been his father’s (Archibald’s) and grandfather’s (Neil’s) account of the journey. For those living in the Churchill, Riverdale, Bonshaw and Argyle Shore area with ancestry connected to MacDonalds or MacKinnons, you may find some clues or questions in this lengthy but historically rich piece. We would love to hear from you in the comments’ section, or you can email vivian@eastlink.ca. This is a transcription of an earlier transcription of a story originally written 123 years ago, so we have made our best attempt at accuracy. 

A number of gentlemen in the old country, having lands in Canada had agents to see after their claims. The business of these agents was to populate these lands. Having sent a glowing report home, the people of the Isle of Mull and surrounding districts being those influenced, hastily disposed of their goods and chattels, except such that they could conveniently take as luggage to the Great Land of America.

So the poor people bid adieu for aye to the dear land of their birth, the land so dear to each one of them. Just think of the many tears shed when they arose and left the old homestead, never never to see it again. How dear the land of green heath and shaggy wood, the land of mountain and the floor, has been to these humble peasants, yet as humble as was their lot, they felt a pang of sorrow when they cast the last look on the old place.

They then went to Tobermory, from whence they were to sail. Tobermory is a place of some importance in Mull, on account I am told, being the third best harbor in Scotland. It is not much of a place to look at. Indeed there is no footing for anything like a building at the shore, by reason of a very scraggy and rocky hill rising immediately from the waters edge. But solid breastworks being built, there was a row of fine houses at the base of the hill at that time.

Those solitary emigrants after getting their little odds and ends packed in trunks, some of them huge ones, they then prepared to embark on an Emigrant ship or tub called the Amity from Glasgow. The ship I understand was built at Quebec.

Captain Samuel Andrews being in command, having engaged the required number of officers and seamen, they left Tobermory about the first of July, 1833, in excellent spirits no doubt, meditating on the future good fortune in America.

They sang the Emigrant song in the Big Hotel before, mixed no doubt with the good old uisge-beatha (whiskey). The following is the song in Scottish Gaelic. (The original writing included the chorus only. We have included the full lyrics here and English translation – video link to a vocal performance of this song at end of article.)

‘Illean bithibh sunndach – Boys be Happy

‘Illean bithibh sunndach – Boys be happy
A-null air a’ bhoidse – Going on a voyage
Fàgail ar dùthcha – Leaving our country
Gun dùil ri thigh’inn beò ann – Without hope of doing well there
‘Illean bithibh sunndach – Boys be happy
A-null air a’ bhoidse – Going over the ocean

Verse 1: 
‘Illean cridheil gaolach – Hearty, loving boys
Togaibh rite h-aodach – Hoist the sails
Tha buidheann mo ghaoil-sa – A group of dear folk
Di Ardoain ‘dol a sheòladh – Are setting sail on Friday

Verse 2:

Gur mise tha gu cianail – I am homesick
A’ fàgail a’ Chrianain – Leaving the Crinan
A’ dol do’n dùthaich fhiadhaich – Going to the wild country
A dh’iarraidh ar lòin as – To make a living

Verse 3: 

Gur mise tha fo ghruaimean – I am in despair
A’ dol a shiubhal chuantan – Travelling over the oceans
Tha ‘n t-soitheach dubh a’ gluasad – A black ship is moving
Gu muladach a sheòladh – Sailing in sadness

After the unusual embracing and such, fond and precious remarks, the shrill note of the Captain’s ship ahoy, they went on board, being a fine day and the future after plotting the course, then she moved away, having all the appearance of fine weather. They felt comfortable as could be expected under the circumstances, making new acquaintances to fill the gap made by the old ones left behind. They progressed.

The old tub, as they called her, moved majestically along. Till they encountered a storm along the Irish Coast. The storm was severe. Indeed, some of the poor passengers begged the Captain to return back again, but he being an able seaman proceeded on the voyage. After three days, the storm abated and they forgot their terror, being too busy putting things to rights, attending the sick etc.

One curiosity among the men who used the cuddy weed, was that their lips were burned with the poker iron they lit their cuddies with. Having no flintstone, they were obliged to used the iron. I think if it was now, many a fine pair of mustaches would be disfigured, for a time at least.

After the storm calmed down, the weather was fine until they came to the banks of Newfoundland, where a hurricane struck them, and the ship being tossed on her beam ends. For three hours they were in a perilous position, I am told, until she righted again, and you may wager that they were a pious lot. But people soon forgot those things and became themselves again.

I am told this was the severest storm there ever was on the Island, that to the knowledge of the oldest inhabitants. One old man being hurt at the time of the storm, died soon thereafter and was buried at sea. Also, one child. Those two were all the deaths. There was also one birth.

After seven weeks of tossing on the Great Atlantic, they landed at Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton, about 250 souls, and the great number remaining there, having friends to greet them. (Editor’s note: exact date was August 21st, 1833, reference here.)

The Amity of Glasgow proceeded to her destination, Quebec, to load with lumber, being build for that trade, made her a very poor sailor and a sorrowful time for passengers (seventy).

The number who came to the Island was sixty-eight souls, many married couples and families, made up fifty-eight. Unmarried men were seven. There was also one woman and two children.

They took passage in two small French schooners bound for Charlottetown and landed there in due time. After resting their bones, they went to the country to look out for a home for the future, settling here and there all over Queen’s County.

Not having space will not permit me to give a detailed account of them individually, but a remark or two will not be out of place, I hope.

Mr. John MacFarlane, who afterwards settled on Melville Road, brought an iron plow, and I am told it is in good working order yet. They all lived to a ripe old age and honorably passed on.

Mr. MacDonald after moving about a little, settled on Strathgartney Heights, where he ran a smithy. Mack was always welcome at neighbours’ fireside or at home on winter nights, being always attentively listened to, being a grand hand at Legends and Traditions. He died at the age of 82 years on Strathgartney Heights.

The three oldest of the family were girls, who got married and moved to different parts of the Island.

Neil, the eldest son, being a seafaring man, went to sea and got married to a lady in Glasgow. He died at the early age of 41, leaving two sons.

The next, Flora, is deserving of special mention. She was about 19 years when she came to the Island. Fourteen years after, she married Edward Whitehead, a private in the 23rd Royal Welsh Fusilieres. He was stationed in Charlottetown then. They were soon called away and, after remaining in Halifax for six months, went to Winchester, England, remaining there two years. This town is noted as the place Cromwell made a decree that all travelers passing should get one pint of beer and a slice of bread. This was after he burned the town.

He was a commander on the fourth day of April 1854, but sad to relate he was killed at the first engagement at the Battle of Alma on the 20th September. Samuel Morell was Whitehead’s chum for eighteen years, went through the war and came back without a scratch, which was a lucky thing for the widow. Friendship ripened to affection and he married her after she came back to England. Those gentlemen have great respect for the Scotch women.

Mr. Morell was keeper of Regent’s Park for 28 years and six months until he took ill and died April 6th, 1888. After her husband’s death, Mrs. Morell felt lonesome and came back to Prince Edward Island to live with her brother Donald on Tryon Road.

Mrs. Morell saw some wonderful sights in her time. She saw the Great Eastern launched. The SS Great Eastern was a mammoth ship. She was 680 ft. long. They launched her at a cost of 60,000 pounds. Her trial was disastrous, several being killed by an explosion. Mrs. Morell saw Queen Victoria several times, likewise all the Royal Family. I think that would be a treat to see the Royal Family of Great Britain.

She receives a pension as a soldier’s widow of two shillings and sixpence a month, is now about 80 years old and retains her faculties.

This is an account of John, and Christy got married to a Mr. Miller and moved to Providence, Rhode Island, where she now lives, prosperous and happy.

The next on our list is Mr. William MacDonald, having a family when he landed of six boys and one girl. He settled in Argyle Rear, where he died leaving two sons there. They in turn left their farms to their sons, now the third generation who is still living there in good circumstances.

Next comes Neil MacKinnon who died at the age of 82 years, leaving a wife, five girls and three boys. His wife was one of the Lochbuie MacLeans, a clan noted for longevity and a strange Legend of Ewan of the Little head or The Headless Horseman. The old lady died at the venerable age of 91 years, retaining her faculties till the very last.

The eldest of the family, Allen settled on a farm in River Dale, Lot 30, and died about eleven years ago, leaving a widow who still survives him, but no family.

Next to Allen is Archibald, who was my father, was a tailor and farmer, settled in Strathgartney Corner, where he died on the 20th May 1891, aged 77 years.

Catherine married Malcolm MacKinnon and the mother of ten sons and two daughters. She has now two sons on the Island and one daughter. Five sons in the Western States. Two died in the Eastern States and one is on the Island. The other daughter made a home in New Hampshire.

Margaret married Mr. Donald MacLeod of Harlington. She had three daughters, two married and one single. Mrs. MacLeod died 1893 aged 74 years.

Flora married James Murray and they settled on a farm in River Dale. She died May 1893 aged 71. She has two sons in the States and one on the Island on the homestead. Three daughters are on the Island, two married and one single. She was one of a pair of twins. Her other sister Mary, is living in Ontario.

The youngest son John was a child of three years when he came to the Island, leaving him now 64 years next birthday. John like everybody had some peculiarities, one being content to remain a bachelor, but it seems to agree with him. However, he is a hale and hearty man today. He has filled different positions in his time. Learning the tailoring trade first, but thinking he missed his calling, he went to school and after getting a license to teach Grammar School, he filled that position for a number of years.


The tailor shop was on the second floor of the barn at the right. They had a round stove with a “ring or rim” to set the irons upon. Located at corner of highway and Riverdale Road. Buildings no longer there since highway upgrade.

Malcolm F. MacKinnon included his bio with the story:

Malcolm, tailor, of Churchill, was born April 20th 1867 at Churchill, son of Archibald and Isabella (Ferguson) MacKinnon. The parental grandfather Neil MacKinnon was born on the Isle of Mull, Argyleshire, Scotland, and came to Prince Edward Island August 11, 1833 on the ship Amity of Glasgow, and located on Strath Alban. He was married in his native country and became the father of eight children: Archibald, Allen, John, Catherine, Mary, Flora, Margaret and Sarah.

Archibald MacKinnon, father of Malcolm who wrote this, was also born on the Isle of Mull and accompanied his parents on their immigration to PEI. He followed his trade as a tailor but the last twenty years of his life was engaged in farming. He married Isabella Ferguson, a daughter of Peter Ferguson of Hampton, PEI, and had a family, namely, Peter who died in infancy, Neil, Charles, Peter the second, John Archibald, Malcolm F., Sarah wife of Charles MacFadyen, Catherine deceased, Christie, and Isabel the wife of Duncan MacGillivary. He was a member of the Church of Scotland and always supported the Liberal Party. His death occurred on May 26, 1891. Malcolm F. who wrote this sketch was a tailor also, and was a member of the L.O.A.B.A. and the Sons of Temperance, also a Member of the Scotch Kirk.

I hope this will give you an idea of your ancestors, that’s if they are or not. There is a sketch written by Ewen MacKinnon of DeSable born 1837 and Margaret MacKinnon, his Grandfather being John MacKinnon, a native of Isle of Mull, Argyleshire, born in 1787.

Photos of MacKinnon Family’s record book:

Editor’s Notes:

  • Archibald and Isabella (Ferguson) MacKinnon Family tree, click here.
  • Notation on site – The Ships List: PANS, Financial Mss., Passenger Money, op. cit., John Jean (Collector of Customs) to Charles Wallace, Arichat, August 23, 1833. Brig Amity, from Creek Tobermory, Port of Greenock, landed 258 “passengers” at Ship Harbour on August 21. Jean collected the passenger money—£64/10/0
  • Video of group performing the song Illean Bithibh Sunndach (Boys be Happy):

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UAXGHE_CTNo&w=560&h=315]

No Comments

  1. Jamie Simpson on February 13, 2017 at 3:45 am

    Hey my mother was born in St Catherine’s. her parents were Walter and Margaret Shaw. My ancestors come over around the same time and are buried in the St Catherines Pioneer Cemetery.

  2. Brenda R Moore on July 20, 2017 at 9:26 am

    Interesting to read this. I knew of the connection to the MacKinnons as Peter Ferguson was my ancestor. My line is Archibald Ferguson, Isabel Ferguson MacKinnon’s oldest brother.

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