Part 1 here.
In the second half of the 19th century, the southern Outer Hebridean islands of the Uists, Benbecula and Barra were very isolated indeed, relying on sailing smacks for delivery of mail and a cargo steamer once a week from Glasgow.
It was a complaint which came up before the Napier Commission appointed in 1883 to enquire into the grievances of the crofting areas of Scotland and one thing to come out of the Commission was that the Postmaster General authorised a thrice weekly mail steamer service from Oban to Coll, Tiree, Castlebay (Barra) and Lochboisdale (South Uist) to commence in March 1886. In effect, this meant paying a shipping company to carry the mail to these islands on a steamer and, of course, the ship would carry passengers and cargo as well. The first "mail contractor" was the shortlived Highland Fisheries Company but MacBrayne's took over in 1889.
In 1893, MacBrayne's were running a service more ambitious than originally envisaged with departures from Oban every day of the week (except Sunday). On Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, one steamer left Oban at 6.00am and sailed for Tobermory, Castlebay, Lochboisdale and Lochmaddy on North Uist where she arrived in the early evening. She then proceeded through the night to Dunvegan, Pooltiel and Bracadale on Skye, Canna and Rum and then back via Tobermory, arriving back at Oban at 2.00pm on the day after she had departed. A second steamer performed that circuit the other way round departing Oban on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The steamers concerned were the Flowerdale and the Staffa - this is the Flowerdale at Tobermory:-
Coll and Tiree were served by a different mail steamer three days a week from Oban, calling also at Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan and terminating at Bunessan in the west of Mull. It would have been in the late 1880s that steamer piers were built at Castlebay and Lochboisdale to add to the one already existing at Lochmaddy. But poor old Benbecula - situated between North and South Uist - was left out of all these developments with not even a ferry call from the new mail steamers as they passed en route between Lochmaddy and Lochboisdale. It was an issue which would lead to questions being asked in the House of Commons as I'll explain in a future post ...