The SS Politician, 8000-ton cargo ship, left Liverpool on 3 February 1941, bound for Kingston, Jamaica and New Orleans. Its cargo included 28,000 cases of malt whisky and nearly three million pounds of Jamaican banknotes.
The Politician never reached its destination, but sank near the island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides in February 1941. Much of the cargo was salvaged by island's inhabitants, before the customs & excise officials arrived. The sinking of the ship and the removal of its cargo were the basis of Compton Mackenzie’s book and the film Whisky Galore.
Compton Mackenzie was a close friend of J.L. Campbell the previous owner of Canna, and as well as the whisky and Ten Shilling Note, the Canna House collection also contains a typewriter that belonged to the author.
Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell was an accomplished pianist and her Steinway Grand piano still stands in Canna House. She learnt to play the piano by ear while a child in America, but then went on to learn to play to professional level. When she married John Lorne Campbell she took her Steinway with her to their first home; a tin corrugated cottage on the Isle of Barra. It was later moved to Canna House where she played it regularly up until her death, aged 101, in 2004.
Margaret Fay Shaw was also well known for her photography. As well as a vast collection of around 9,000 negatives, prints and colour slides, the Canna House Archive contains her original equipment, including her Graflex camera. Margaret embraced the advent of cine film, and the archive has a collection of 16mm films, which have been digitised in video form.
3John Lorne Campbell’s desk
John Lorne Campbell worked at his desk in the conservatory of Canna House; researching his book (Canna, the Story of a Hebridean Island), managing the island’s farm and writing many letters and articles, copies of which have all been kept and form an incredible archive of his life and times.
4John Lorne Campbell’s Ediphone Recorder
Over a period of about 30 years John Lorne Campbell made recordings of the speech, song and stories from the Gaelic tradition both in the West Highlands and beyond, amassing a unique archive of some 1,500 Gaelic songs and 350 folktales.
His first machine, this “Ediphone”, was used to make 274 recordings on the nearby island of Barra and in Cape Breton in the 1930s where he captured the Gaelic songs sung by the descendants of Scots cleared to Nova Scotia. Later he used electrical disc, wire, tape or cassette to make his recordings, many of which have been digitised and accessed through the Tobar an Dualchair website at www.tobarandualchais.co.uk
5Picture frame containing 16 butterflies of Canna
A framed picture with Canna’s 16 butterflies identified John Lorne Campbell hangs pride of place in Canna House’s drawing room. As well as recording the island’s butterfly population, he also identified no fewer than 132 species of moth
The croquet lawn was much used by John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw and is still used today by islanders and visiting friends. You can see the original croquet set in the potting sheds at the back of Canna House garden.
Tropical seeds and seed pods from the West Indies and South America, carried across the Atlantic on the Gulf Stream into the western seaboard of Ireland, Scotland and Scandinavia, given the name of Phaseoli moluccani by Sir Robert Sibbald and known colloquially as ‘Molucca Beans’. They can still be found on the beaches of Canna today…. but you’ll need to keep a very sharp eye out.
In the Old Dairy you can see two coconuts, which have been washed up on Canna shores.
8Bridge between Sanday and Canna
Before this bridge, the islands of Canna and Sanday were connected by a small footbridge, built in 1905, to allow pupils from Canna to reach the school on Sanday instead of having to wait until low tide. The footbridge was destroyed by a storm in 2005 and replaced by this road bridge in 2006.
9Cats in Canna House
John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell loved cats; both living cats and cat ornaments, pictures, decoration and more. Children visiting Canna House are often challenged to see how many cats they can count in the Drawing Room alone!
A tiny sub-species of the wood mouse, the Canna mouse is, as its name suggests, a native of the Isle of Canna.
There’s an information panel telling you all about them in the Square if you don’t manage to spot one yourself.
11Painted names on the cliffs at the pier
The cliffs at the entrance of Canna Harbour are covered with painted names of fishing boats which have passed through over the decades. When Canna was a busy fishing station, fishermen would paint the name of their fishing boats on the cliffs to let people know they had been there.
The cannon ball displayed in Canna House was found on Canna and is believed to have come from the cannons of the ships of the British Fisheries Society raid in 1787 illustrated in the painting on the dining room wall of Canna House.
The Tiffany Clock in the Hall of Canna House was a wedding present to John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw when they got married in 1935.
The shrine was built in the early 1950's by a Benedictine monk called Father Routledge from Fort Augustus. The stained glass was made by a Polish artist, Father Ninian, from Pluscarden Abbey who came to Canna for a retreat.
The seaman’s chair was washed ashore on Canna. It came from the steamship Labrador. The SS Labrador was built in 1891 and was wrecked on Mackenzie’s Rock, near the Skerryvore Lighthouse, Tiree, whilst en-route from St John, New Brunswick to Liverpool in March 1899.
A single local stamp was issued for Canna in 1958 by the then laird, John Lorne Campbell. The stamp shows Compass Hill and two Manx Shearwaters, a seabird found in profusion on the island. Shearwaters is also the name of the currency of the stamp. Its use is optional and all proceeds from the sale – at the island farm and post office — go to the Shipwrecked Mariners Society.
In 2006, a two-year programme to eradicate the Isle of Canna of its rat population saw 4,200 traps laid across the island by a team of specialist trappers from New Zealand. The estimated 10,000 rats threatened to extinguish the island's precious sea bird colonies. Ground-nesting birds like shags and razorbills were being taken in large numbers and although 3,000 Manx Shearwaters birds had been counted in 1972, by 2004, the bird was virtually extinct. The half a million pound eradication programme was successful, with the last rat being seen in 2006.
18John Lorne Campbell's gravestone
John Lorne Campbell died in April 1996 at the age of 89 in Italy. In a codicil to his will he said he was prepared to be buried where he fell, and so he was buried in Italy. Ten years later, with the permission of his late wife Margaret Fay Shaw, his friend Hugh Cheape decided to bring his body back to Canna. He laid it to rest beneath a simple gravestone in a small woodland of native conifer and deciduous trees he created near at A’ Chill.
The bullaun stone, or ‘cursing stone’ is 25cm in diameter, dates back to AD 800 and is engraved with a cross. It is the first example ever to have been found in Scotland, with Ireland a much more common location for the stones.
Cursing stones are linked to early Christian standing crosses, one of which stands on Canna. There is a worn hole at its base, into which the new find perfectly fits. Bowl-shaped lower stones have previously been found elsewhere in Scotland, including on Canna, but this is the first discovery of a top stone.
Canna has a large puffin colony at Dùn Mòr on the sea cliffs at the back of Sanday. This unmistakable black and white bird with its brightly-coloured bill, red and black eye-markings and bright orange legs is a real joy to watch. Adults arrive back at the breeding colony in March and April and leave again in mid-August. Some remain in the North Sea at winter, other move further south to the Bay of Biscay.
Golden Eagles and very occasionally White-tailed Eagles can be spotted regularly on the Isle of Canna, mostly on the cliffs and ridges towards the west end.
The Golden Eagle is the UK’s second largest bird of prey and has a
wing span of around 2 metres. Adult golden eagles are predominantly dark brown with paler feathers around the back of the head giving the species its name. Juvenile golden eagles are a richer chocolate brown with conspicuous white wing and tail patches.
The white-tailed eagle - also known as the sea eagle or white-tailed sea eagle - is a huge bird with broad wings up to 245 cm (over 8 feet) wide. The adult white-tailed eagle large pale buff coloured head, huge bill and short, wedge-shaped and pure white tail are very distinctive. White-tailed eagle are quite vocal and call far more often than golden eagles.
22Cetaceans & Basking Sharks
Cetaceans is the collective name for whales, dolphins, and porpoises – all of which are seen in the waters around Canna. 24 species have been recorded in the waters off the west coast of Scotland in recent years including Harbour Porpoise; Bottlenose, Common and Risso's Dolphin; Killer (Orca), Minke, Humpback and Sperm Whales.
Basking sharks - second largest fish in the world - are also a common visitor. When fully grown it can measure 11 metres in length and weigh about 4500 kg. Despite their large size and threatening appearance, basking sharks are not aggressive and are harmless to people.
Islanders catch lobster, crab and prawn from the waters around Canna using pots or creels. Lobster pots are usually dropped to the sea floor from a small boat and are marked by a buoy so they can be picked up later. The pots contain bait to attract the lobster, which once it is inside the pot, cannot escape. The lobster remains alive until it is picked up. If it is undersize, it’s put back in the water.
The main lobster season is between April and October.
24Walled Garden & Polytunnel
The walled garden of Canna House has provided Canna residents with fresh fruit and vegetables for many decades. But with the often unpredictable weather, or downright inhospitable in the winter, a new community polytunnel has been added to the island’s growing options. Sited just outside the walled garden, next to the picnic tables in what used to be the ‘hen run’, the polytunnel will provide a range of produce throughout the year.
25Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritime)
This low lying plant with greyish-green leaves that taste of oysters, hence the common name, look more like a succullent (Sedum) than a member of the Borage Family. It can be found at Tarbet (west) and on Sanday. Mertensia maritima is known by the common names oysterleaf, oysterplant or sea bluebells. It grows on gravel ground in the Northern hemisphere, reaching north to the northern parts of Canada, Greenland and Svalbard. It is a perennial herb producing a stem approaching 50 centimeters in maximum length. The inflorescence forms a cluster of flowers which are first reddish, and later bright blue