John Kirkness I have got

Your very welcome letter

And never has it been my lot

To see or hear a better


And truly am l glad indeed

To learn you’ve got a son

I trust sincerely you’ll succeed

In getting many a one


And if you call him after me

Of which l'm unco proud

A soldier you must let him be

To fight our foes abroad


For Scotland calls on all her sons

To resist the invading foe

To draw the sword and man the gun

And strike the avenging blow


And when our time of service spent

Our battles and our sieges o'er

Our wandering steps will then be bent

To Veira and to Rousay's shore


No more we’ll follow fife or drum

Or plough the raging deep

But jolly farmers we'll become

To speed the plough and reap


Then farewell, John right glad was I

To hear from Rousay’s isle

It ...... me many a thought and sigh

Tho' distant many a mile


Now farewell John l herewith send

A sovereign good for my young friend

And hope the Muses will inspire

Him with his Pa’s poetic fire.

The two poems below were given to The Orkney View by Tommy Gibson of Rousay. The first was written by John Kirkness, jnr, tenant of Quoyostray, Rousay in 1853 to the laird, Frederick William Traill-Burroughs. At the time, Burroughs was serving with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in this country.

Dear Sir forgive my boldness

For intruding upon you

Who have no sullen coldness

To give you honour due


But though unable for the task

You will excuse me when

Sincerity without a mask

Flows from your tenant’s pen


In Veira Isle and Rousay

You are held in high esteem

For your exceeding kindness

On which we had no claim


What favour can we show you

For your benevolence

I think the best we can do

Is to give no offence


A bonfire’s blaze is little

To exalt your fame

Cheering huzzas a trifle

In honour of your name


Though I give you a name-son

So I hereby propose

That we may daily mention

The name Frederick Burroughs


Yet these are all too little

We poor peasants can do

But as you are the mettle

To venerate the plough


Therefore as I know your wish

I shall not recoil

But try to give an extra push

To improve the soil


And thereby beautify your land

To my utmost extent

And that I plenty may command

For family and rent


I hope you will an answer send

If this you think expedient

Wishing you well Sir I remain

Your tenant most obedient

The second poem is Burrough's reply to his tenant.

Unfortunately the writing in one place is indecipherable.

There was an ironic twist to the story of the baby named after the Laird. In 1892 Burroughs took Frederick Kirkness (the name-son) to court to try to have him evicted from Quoyostray for bankruptcy but Kirkness applied to the Crofters' Commission to have the proceedings halted. When the Commission heard his case, his arrears of £52 were cancelled and the £30 rent reduced to £19. Burroughs was not amused!


[My thanks to Tommy and the editors of the Orkney View for allowing this transcription]