A lifetime at sea - Harris man Murdo sailed the world

The young Murdo Morrison (left) and cousin John MacAulay employed as Glasgow shipyard apprentices in 1959.
The young Murdo Morrison (left) and cousin John MacAulay employed as Glasgow shipyard apprentices in 1959.

From Geocrab in Harris to the heyday of the Glasgow shipyards, from working for the Jordanian Royals to the Australian government and the British Royal Navy, a life-time at sea not only lead Harris man Murdo Morrison around the globe but saw his engineering skills, natural ingenuity and powerful work-ethic prove in constant demand by a world-wide maritime industry.

And in this three-part weekend online feature, Murdo passes on a lifetime’s experience at sea.

Born in May 1941, Murdo grew up in the small east coast village of Geocrab in the Bays, at No.10, living with the family unit of his mother, father, younger sister and windowed grandfather.

Although admitting older age and a slower memory at 71 years of age, Murdo’s childhood memories – as with those of his sea days – are ‘as vivid as yesterday’.

“We lived in the house my grandfather had built,” he recalled. “He was Murdo Macaulay, who I’m named after. He was a very religious man, a lay preacher, and my upbringing consisted of the Bible being read every morning and night.

“I slept with my grandfather as it was in the day and he used to pray by the bedside every morning and every night. At that time it was a traditional upbringing into religion.

“My grandfather wasn’t a person who threw his religion at people though – what you saw was what you got with him.”

This was to be an attitude adopted by Murdo in later life, whether he knew then it would be or not, and played its part in securing him a number of prestigious commissions.

Schooling began for the Hearach lad at the age of six years in the village school at Manish, before graduating to lodge during the week in Tarbert at aged 12 to attend the high school.

“Tarbert School set me off on an academic path,” says Murdo. “I was great at maths, but Latin and the other stuff, I couldn’t care about.”

Three years later Murdo entered education at Lewis Castle College – the first tentative steps into his impressive sea career.

He said: “I knew one or two guys who’d went the year before and what they told me sounded interesting, so I went for the Engineering course because I’d always had an interest in working things out.”

It was the Head of Engineering at the time who steered Murdo’s career, as he continued: “That guy took an interest in me. At the Castle then they had a trawler for the navigational officers to learn, and the engineers worked aboard it at the mechanical parts. This guy was always giving me the work to do you know, he knew it would be done well.

“One day he took me aside and asked what I was doing. He told me about himself and his time at sea and said he’d be willing to get in touch with a shipyard for me if I wanted.”

Murdo struggles to remember the tutors name, but is keen to hear of any information that people may know of him, as he added: “I never got to explain how I’d done or find out what happened to him.”

The call was put in and Barclay Curle & Co’s Whiteinch shipyard was the destination for the 15 year old teenager in 1957 to begin a five year apprenticeship working in Glasgow’s famed docks.

“I was just gob-smacked when I first went to Glasgow at just seeing the yard, the space was huge!” he laughed. “These diesel engines were built inside the building – from the bedplate right up until the whole engine was built. And the pistons on these things would be a metre in diameter and two metres high; they were just huge!”

Living with his Aunt Jessie in Glasgow, Murdo enjoyed city life and surrounded by a small army of island apprentices, was too busy to pine for home.

He explained: “We islanders always had steady work, the island boys were liked. The Glasgow guys on apprentice were always skiving away all the time, but the guys from the islands were sent with the best tradesmen as they knew we’d just get on with the job, they wouldn’t have to check us. We helped them earned their bonuses, so we were well liked!”

Following a successful five years, Murdo left the shipyards in 1962, eager to expand his horizons and go to sea: “It was a great time to as anyone who’d worked in the yards on the Clyde was like gold-dust, so you were snapped up quick,” he remembered.

Find out how Murdo’s sea career progressed tomorrow (Saturday, February 23rd) on the Stornoway Gazette website as he tells what happened after he left the Clyde.