The spider's web:  the long reach of one small uninhabited island

The project

The driving idea of the project is to use a series of mundane physical features of the Island as points of departure for opening up large historical themes.  The connecting level is the extended family histories – spread around the world as they are - of a number of individuals who, like me, have known and loved the Island very well.  The historical themes are linked for my purpose by the accident of them all being rooted in the same small uninhabited place.

For the personal background to the project, see The background

For more information on the project's origin and development, see How it started

The sources

The trails of enquiry have been many and fascinating, through largely primary source material – archival deposits in various places, oral interviews, website searches, private correspondence, official census and other records.  There is much unfinished business.  I have had a lot of fun.  I have also had a lot of help, partly through tracing some living descendants of the key individuals concerned. 

Family descendants and local interest

I expect most interest in the project from the descendants of ‘key individuals’ connected with the Island, and perhaps from people in Galloway who know this part of the coast well.  We had a wonderful gathering of well over a hundred people on Easter Saturday 2007, firstly on the Island itself and secondly in Gatehouse.  To find out what happened then, click on Easter Expedition 2007

I hope that this website will trigger some memories for some of you, and I should like to invite you to be in touch with me if you have a family connection with the Island or have anecdotes or memories you would like to share with me.  I am also keen to receive suggestions for relevant source material.  Click on Contact.  If you would like to read the contributions of others, see News and Contributions

For snapshots of some aspects of Island life over time, see Island life

The themes

Most connections I have been able to trace derive from the twentieth century.  However, there are two major themes which chronologically precede this.  The first is the place of the Island in the early history of Christianity in this part of Scotland.  See The archaeological record

The second is the Island’s involvement in the ‘free trade’ from the Isle of Man in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  See SmugglingOtherwise, the principal themes are the expansion of empire in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in its mercantile, political and military aspects, and its decline in the twentieth.  The protagonists of the Island Project were participants in these significant historical movements in many different ways.  India looms especially large in the experience of some of the families concerned.  For a glimpse of the diversity of such experience, see Family histories, in which brief profiles of five families are presented.

The objective

This is why I have used the phrase ‘the long reach’ of one small island.  It is intended to suggest the interest and the potential of moving ‘upwards’ from the micro-level of individual lives to the macro-level of large-scale historical processes around the world.  It is also why I have used the overall title ‘Ghosts and Memories’.  The Island is uninhabited.  But the objective of the project is to evoke the spirits of the past by persuading them to emerge blinking, as it were, into the light.