A visit to Canna by Pierre Nicolas Chantreau
Between 1788 and 1789 a vist took place to Canna by Frenchman, Pierre Nicolas Chantreau. The text of his visit is available in the third volume of his; Voyage dans les trois royaumes d'Angleterre, d'Écosse et d'Irlande, fait en 1788 et 1789 written in French and available to buy as a paperback volume. The visit to Canna by Pierre Nicolas Chantreau was discovered by Jean-Didier Hache who translated the Scottish part of the travel journal of the Marshall MacDonald, Duke of Tarentum in 1825 for the Islands Book Trust.
The following is the translation of the extract from Voyage dans les trois royaumes d'Angleterre, d'Écosse et d'Irlande, fait en 1788 et 1789 by Pierre Nicolas Chantreau, kindly translated for the Canna Local History Group by Magda Sagarzazu;
A Trip to the Three Kingdoms, England Scotland and Ireland in 1788 and 1789.
Pierre Nicolas Chantreau
Vol.III page 95
Description of Canna.
We left Skye to go towards Mull, on our way we visited the
Islands of Canna and Rum,that are worth mentioning.
The first-one has an excellent harbour protected on the
north side by the island itself, and from the south the
little island of Sanday, Rum lies opposite within about
three miles distance.
As the weather was good we were able to visit the
Island. It seems green and fertile with numerous
livestock . However a Hebridean man that was on
board told us that although the land looks fertile the
people were far from being wealthy, although they
work very hard the land didn’t respond to their efforts.
The Cattle we saw were of the small kind [highland]
They are very skilful with the fishing and cloth making
which are their main resources.
They are the most industrious people of the
The woman make the cloth without the help
of a [weaver, loom]. The men make their own
shoes without the help of a
shoemaker. Everyman prepares the hide,
and get the leather ready.
They have to be strong in body and mind for
There is not a doctor nor a priest. If they get
Sick a little milk and a rest is the only
Remedies they use. When their souls need
Consolation the head of the household
or their neighbours give the courage that they
need . Most of them are Catholique, but
there is not a Church not a Presvitery or a
school. During the winter’s months they
reduce their simple cult to nature. They work
instead of Pray and it does not seem to
bother Heaven, that accepts more a man
working than praying.
These islanders have a very original tradition,
on St. Michael’s day every house holder rides
his horse bare with a young girl, or the wife
of his neighbour if she has not been married
for two years. They ride to the big Cross that
is in the north of the island. There they pray a
Pater Noster? [Our Father]and they all go to
the Inn where the women invites, then they
go to the oldest person’s house. She will be
the one that will make this year St. Michael’s
bread.[Struan Michael] it is made of butter,
milk eggs and oats flour. It is made a semi-
circle of a big diameter.
Marriage is very popular in this island and also
In Rum , Muck and Eigg that are nearby. You
can hardly find a spinster or a bachelor, the
islanders believe that they will be cursed if
they dont follow the duty to become parents
and in order to avoid his anger and the
misfourtains that sends to those that wants
to live in celibacy, the men get married at 20
and the girls at 17. A married woman in this
country is a estate of happiness; for they
would not be expected to do any hard work,
only to be a good mother to her children and
a good housewife, dedicated to her house and
that is believed to be so even with modest