View Record Number 4030

View Record Number 4030 - Mr. John Fraser

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Name:Mr. John Fraser
South Uist
Place of death:Daliburgh
Additional Info:(The following information was kindly contributed by Mr. Roddy MacLean)
This gravestone had been erected by one Thomas John Fraser, in memory of his mother (Mary MacDonald, who died 26th July 1884) and father (John). Interesting indeed, but simply a grave of a former policeman, and nothing more? Well, not quite so. Inverness-shire Constabulary was the largest police force in the Scottish Highlands and Islands which currently makes up the force are of Northern constabulary. As the largest county in the UK (Yorkshire as whole was larger but was of course divided into 3 parts), it stretched from: Ardersier (east of Inverness) in the east, Drumochter (halfway between Inverness and Perth) in the south, Fort William in the south-west, Mallaig and Glenelg in the (Mainland) West and also took in the Island of Skye and the Small Isles (Inner Hebrides) plus all of the Outer Hebrides apart from Lewis. (See for more about the former County) The force policed the whole of the county with the exception of the Royal Burgh of Inverness, which had its own police force right up until 1968 when it merged with the county/. The County of Inverness (excluding the Burgh of Inverness) covered an area of 2,722,686 acres (approximately 1 million hectares) from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, yet in 1912 its population was only 65,054, and it was less than 57,000 by 1963 (Source Police Almanacs). Being so sparsely populated, and the population being a mix of small towns and villages (usually far apart from each other) and scattered rural crofting areas, the County force was never a large one, even in the early 1960’s only having 63 officers of all ranks. The majority of officers worked alone, from a station attached to their police house. John Fraser was one of the Constables appointed on 15th March 1858 when the Inverness-shire Constabulary was reconstituted to comply with the requirements of the Police (Scotland) Act of 1857. Prior to then there had been no requirement to keep records, so I am unable to say whether PC Fraser had been in the "old" County force which had existed between 1840 and 1858, but does not seem to have been in the job pre-1850. John Fraser was a native of Boleskine, Inverness-shire (a parish on the south shore of Loch Ness) and previous employment is given as "Labourer". He was 38 when taken on in 1858 so that does tend to imply he had previous police experience as 38 was rather on the "old" side. Most of the men appointed were in their 20's apart from a small number who appear to have been kept on from the previous force - so it is indeed likely that he was originally taken on in 1850 or soon after (if his grave inscription is correct, which it undoubtedly is). Another fact which tends to confirm his previous service was the fact that on engagement in 1858 he was placed as Second Class Constable (on pay scale - third was the lowest rung) His first station in 1858 was on the Isle of South Uist, (Outer Hebrides) where he remained until 15/5/1873 when circumstances saw him resign - at the ‘suggestion’ of Chief Constable William Murray - the same man who had taken him on in 1858! He was however taken back on again on 18/3/1874, and immediately put to the Isle of Barra (setting for Compton Mackenzie’s Whisky Galore”), a remote location with no prospect of swift reinforcement. When re-hired he was back down to Third class Constable. Then in May 1876 he was returned to South Uist ("Dalibrog"), and upgraded to Second class constable again, so he clearly had impressed Chief Constable Murray. He remained at that same station until 7/6/1891 when he retired on pension. Police Pensions came in during 1891 by virtue of the Police (Scotland) act of 1890 (previously they had been discretionary, and if awarded in Inverness-shire, which was rarely, they tended to be a one-off gratuity). John Fraser would have been glad - as he would have been 71 years of age by the time he retired. He had served his entire career in the Outer Hebrides – indeed apart from his 2-year exile to Barra his time was spent on the Isle of South Uist. If he did not have a wealth of local knowledge, nobody would! He managed but four years on the pension. Poor soul - after his 40 years on the job, he surely deserved longer. How times have changed - the prospect of trying to actively do law enforcement at age 70!! The statement on the gravestone of course says he served “for upwards of 40 years” so he must indeed have been a member of the “old” (1840-1857) force and if so he must have been one of the very few of those men to have been kept on by the new force. One can only surmise that at the 1858 re-working of the force, John would have been the local officer in South Uist and perhaps being there already and doing a good job was enough to convince the first Chief Constable to keep him on, in situ, rather than put someone else out there to have a doubly steep learning curve, in terms of both the job and the area. Ignoring his enforced absence of just under a year, he would have 33 years in the “new” force, so he must have served at least 7 further years in the previous Inverness-shire force, thus joining circa 1851. He would then have been aged 29 or 30, which seemed to be the optimum age for recruitment back then. Doubtless he would have kept his offspring amused with stories of his time in the force (who doesn’t!!) but the wording “for upwards of 40 years” still intrigued me. Both precise and yet slightly vague, and also something else – a sense of pride and respect, and achievement too, which perhaps only fellow officers would appreciate. So, on a hunch, back I went to my notes of the Force Personnel Register. Lo and behold , there was a Thomas John Fraser who served in the Inverness-shire Constabulary – the very son who had erected the gravestone. As if somebody knew the question would arise in the future, Thomas’ police personnel record page was endorsed “son of PC John Fraser”. Constable Thomas John Fraser joined the Inverness-shire Constabulary aged 23 on 15/11/1884 (just 4 months after his mother died) and was posted to Uig, at the north end of the Isle of Skye. He subsequently served at : ¨ Staffin (1886) (Skye) ¨ Carbost (1887-1889) (Skye) ¨ Barra (1889-92) (southernmost island of the Outer Hebrides)(his dad had also served there) ¨ Iochdar (1892-1896) (Isle of South Uist) – effectively replacing his dad who retired 1891 ¨ Portree (1896-98), (the Isle of Skye’s main town) ¨ Obbe (1898-1910), now renamed Leverburgh (Isle of Harris), and ¨ Stoneybridge,(1910) (Isle of South Uist again) That concluded his transfers and he retired on Pension at Stoneybridge on 28/5/1920 aged 59 with 36 years service. His record shows he died on 5/12/1951 which would have made him 89 or 90. Of interest is the fact that he never served on the mainland part of Inverness-shire. Presumably he preferred the islands, and the bosses were clearly happy to permit that. It obviously suited everybody - and his colleagues would not complain. Moving to and from an island station is a bigger upheaval than most, and of course has a considerable effect upon the family too. During the period 1899-1901 a composite collage photograph was produced, made up of individual “passport” photographs of every member of the force then serving. Thomas J Fraser, then Constable Number 53 is included. So between Thomas and his dad, they clocked up more than 76 years of police service. They would never have worked together though. The Chief Constable from 1882, Mr Alexander McHardy, or his Deputy, had noted in Thomas's record that he was John Fraser's son. So, all in all, that gravestone marks a whole lot more than simply a bobby’s last resting place – it is a monument to three quarters of a century of police service in the Scottish Islands. Indeed, did either man ever wear his uniform on the Mainland, or even visit force HQ at Inverness Castle? Well Thomas likely would, for a short time when he joined and would have received some induction training – but John? Probably not – given the lengthy and arduous journey involved (boat to Skye or Kyle of Lochalsh, then mail carriage - or later, train) -thereafter across Scotland. Chances are his dealings with the Chief Constable would have all be conducted by letter post or telegram – or by the Lochmaddy Inspector as intermediary - or in personal visits from The Chief during his visits (sometimes with the HMI) around the force area. So much has indeed changed in policing since those halcyon days! Dave Conner (Retired Sergeant – Northern Constabulary)
Gravestone Inscription:Erected by Thomas John Fraser
In Loving Memory Of His MOther
Mary MacDonald
Who Died at Dalabrog S. Uist
on 26th July 1884
His Father
John Fraser
Who Was a Member of The Inverness-shire Constabulary
For Upwards of 40 Years and
Who Died at Dalabrog
23rd June 1895.

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Mrs. Mary Fraser (Spouse) (deceased) view record.