Using the valuable resource of the British Newspaper Archive I have extracted any and every mention of Rousay available from newspapers dating back to the early 1800s. The publications range from the Orkney Herald, the John o’ Groat Journal, the Aberdeen Press & Journal, and many others – but not The Orcadian unfortunately! The spelling and grammar is exactly how it appeared on the page. Some of the items are short and sharp – and some of them long and detailed. I include the latter, for they are crucial to the story of the island’s history. Each posting will be housed under the ‘Rousay in Print’ tab in the menu at the top of the homepage.
1805 March 1 Aberdeen Press & Journal / The Scots Magazine
[extract from ‘Tour thro’ some of the Orkney Islands, &c. in 1804’.]
FROM Tuquoy in Westra, (the rocks near which are covered with the most luxuriant specimens of the thong-shaped sea-weed, focus loreus, or, as it is called here, drew,) we set out, on the evening of 9th August for the island of Rousay. We soon found that our boatmen were very unskilful, and unable duly to trim the boat. We were therefore tossed about for several hours, in a tumultuous firth, and overtaken by a dark, rainy, and squally night. Before midnight, however, we reached the shores of Rousay in safety, though wet with spray and rain, almost as if we had been drenched in the sea. The manse was the only place of refuge within our reach. We were compelled to trespass on the repose of the family, but were received with the kindest hospitality.
Rousay, (or as it is spelled by the old writers, Rewes-oy) is a very hilly island. It abounds with grouse, or moorfowl, being covered with pretty long heath, of all the three kinds - that are indigenous to Scotland. Along the course of Trumbland burn in this island, and especially at a lin, or little waterfall near the sea, I was agreeably surprised to find a considerable variety of native shrubs and plants, rather of the more ornamental kind. Among others were honey-suckle (lonicera periclymenum;) wild rose, (rosa villosa;) bramble, (rubus idaeus;) French willow or rosebay willow-herb (epiiobium angustifolium;) wild strawberry, (fragaria sterilis;) wild angelica, (angelica sylvestris;) and valerian, (valeriana officinalis.) A collection and intermixture of these in one spot, seemed, in so bare a country as Orkney, peculiarly grateful, - to an eye, especially, accustomed to the vegetable variety of the south, and tired with the uniformity of the heath-covered hills of Rousay. The honey-suckle and wild rose, indeed, we scarce remember to have found native in any other situation in Orkney.
On the shores of Rousay, a good deal of sponge may be picked from among the rejectamenta: not, however, the official sponge, but a kind that is less bibulous and less flexible, viz. spongia palmate of Ellis, with occasionally great quantities of spongia oculata.
Mr Paterson, the clergyman, has an exact list of the name of every person in his widely-extended parish, which is one of the most laborious charges, consisting of four islands, Rousay, Egilshay, Weir, and Enhallow. By far the most prevalent surnames in this list are Craigie, Marwick, and Mainland.
In the loch of Knitching, which occupies a hollow near the top of the high hill of Knitching, in the vicinity of the manse, I observed an aquatic plant, apparently a spargnium, but although the plant is abundant, I could not find it in flower. Its leaves float on the surface of the water in the manner of poa fluitans. It differs from sparganium natans, in having narrower, coarser, and longer leaves. Any naturalist who may happen to visit Rousay, may find it worthwhile to examine into this.....
1806 January 1 Aberdeen Press & Journal
On the 5th current there was a tremendous storm of thunder, lightning, and snow, in the Orkneys, which did considerable damage to the shipping and boats. In the island of Shapinshay four men, a father and three sons, while at work in a barn, were struck to the ground by the lightning. The father and one of the sons recovered, the other two expired on the spot. In Rousay, a neighbouring island, the corn was damaged in several of the corn yards. One farmer missed in the morning all his crop, which is supposed to have been consumed, as not a vestige remained on the ground.
1817 July 19 Caledonian Mercury
SALE OF LANDS IN ORKNEY AT UPSET REDUCED PRICES
To be Sold by public roup, within the Royal Exchange Coffeehouse in Edinburgh, upon Tuesday the 12th day of August 1817, at once o’clock afternoon,
LOT I. - THE ISLAND OF WYRE, and the FARMS of MYRES and NEERS, in the Island of Rousay. Besides the Land rent, this island produces about 22 tons of kelp annually. – Upset price L.3500.
LOT II. – The FARM of LANGSKAILL, in Wasbister, in the island of Rousay, which produces about a ton and a half of kelp, besides the rent. – Upset price L.500.
Lot III. – The POSSESSION of SCABRAE, in the island of Rousay. – Upset price L.25.
These lands are exposed at prices which may yield a purchaser five per cent. For his money, after deducting public burdens.
For further particulars..... Application may be also made to Mr. John Rae, at Clestrain, by Stromness, in regard to the Orkney Islands.....
1819 February 22 Caledonian Mercury
Extract of a letter, dated Kirkwall, Feb. 10. 1819. – “A brig was taken ashore on the island of Rousay, about ten miles from this place. There was no person on board, and masts, bowsprit, and every article on deck, unless the windlass, was washed away, and the greater part of the stern gone; most of the cargo it is expected will be saved, but the vessel will go to pieces. The following is the description of the vessel:- coppered and sheathed under, an emblem of a Scotch thistle on each of the hause boxes; a star on each cat head; flush deck, about 93 feet long, and about 24 feet wide over the covering boards; mainmast tongued about four feet below the deck; main rigging water laid; and supposed to be about 180 tons per register.”
1819 June 3 Inverness Courier
SALE OF AMERICAN TIMBER, LATHWOOD, AND STAVES,
FROM ST. JOHN’S, NEW-BRUNSWICK.
To be Sold, by public roup, on Wednesday the 16th day of June, at Severskail, in Rousay, one of the Orkney Islands.
The Cargo of the Brig AJAX of Aberdeen, lately wrecked there – consisting of 217 Loads of Pine Timber; 2 Loads and 32 Feet Black Birch; 2 Fathoms Lath-wood; and 6 Hundreds 2 qrs. And 20 Barrel Staves.
Also, Part of a Cable, cut into junk; some Blocks; a few Hundred Weights of Old Copper; and Sundry other articles.
The Timber will be exposed in such Lots as may suit intending purchasers. Three months Credit will be given for all sums above Thirty Pounds.
For particulars, application may be made to Mr Alexander Davidson in Stromness.
1833 August 10 Caledonian Mercury
QUENDAL, TOFTS, QUOYGRAY, in TOWN of WASBISTER, and MILL of FROTOFT, in ISLAND of ROUSAY; extent computed nearly 500 Scotch acres, whereof about 88 acres arable, and remainder pasture; possessed by tenants. Present rent, including conversion poultry, L.63 6s. 11d. Public burdens L.6 5s. 4d. or thereby. The shores produce about 14 tons kelp yearly. The farm of Tofts adjoins to Quendal. Quoygray is distant from these about a mile. There is an extensive common, in which the property claims a share. Quoygray may be sold separately, if a suitable offer shall be made.
Further particulars will be learned upon application to Thomas Robertson, accountant; Messrs Phin and Pitcairn, W.S., Edinburgh; or Mr Patrick Fotheringham, Kirkwall.
1837 July 1 Caledonian Mercury
LANDS IN ORKNEY FOR SALE. – Lot II. The lands of Frotoft and Others, in Rousay, comprehending the Farms of Banks, Cluick, Catafea, and Tratland, with six small cottages and a piece of ground called Learo.
If not sold together, each of the Farms will be exposed in separate Lots, and the Cottages annexed to them respectively.
1837 November 10 John o’ Groat Journal
THUNDER STORM IN THE ISLE OF ROUSAY. – On Thursday, 26th ultimo, about half-past 10. P.M., the farm house of Tofts of Skeaburgh-head, in the north end of the Isle of Rousay, was struck by lightning. Only one clap (loud and long) was heard by the inmates. The electric fluid had entered by what is called the cellar end of the house, which it levelled to the ground, tearing up the very foundation. Three wooden beds, a press, and some chests were literally smashed to splinters. It then appears to have gone through the fire house, every door and every pane of glass in which was broken; a dog was killed while lying before the fire at one of the servant’s feet, yet all the family escaped unhurt, although they were for a considerable time in a state of stupor. The byre also had been struck at the same instant; it too, was levelled with the ground, and three cows in it were killed. The wind was from the south, blowing a gale, with heavy showers of rain and hail.
1842 October 28 John o’ Groat Journal
SHERIFF COURT. – Kirkwall, October 17.......William Sharp, tailor, residing in Rousay, was tried before the Sheriff for “invasion of the houses of the lieges, assault, and malicious mischief;” and after a long proof by the Procurator Fiscal, and one led in exculpation by the panel, he was found guilty, and fined 30s., and failing payment, sentenced to be confined in the jail of Kirkwall for fourteen days, and ordained to find caution to keep the peace for the period of six months, under a penalty of £15, and failing aid caution being found, sentenced to be confined in the jail of Kirkwall for the period of forty days further.
1842 November 18 John o’ Groat Journal
SHERIFF COURT. – Kirkwall Nov. 8. - PERJURY. - A person naming himself Wm. Sharp, tailor, in Rousay, but a native of Rothsay, Bute, was on Monday last committed for trial for the crime of perjury. The circumstance which led to his committal took place on that day in the court, when his oath was taken in a case at his own instance against one Corsie, when Sharp (now McFie) swore that he had no other name than that of Sharp. Curious enough, two or three individuals happened to be in court from Bute, who knew the false swearer as William McFie. The Fiscal hearing this fact, took a precognition, when Sharp, alias McFie, was committed for trial.
1843 February 24 John o’ Groat Journal
ORKNEY. SHOPBREAKING AND THEFT. - On Tuesday week last, Mr Craigie, merchant, Rousay, had his shop feloniously entered by means of removing a pane or panes glass, when a quantity goods, together with a sum money, was abstracted. To-day (13th inst ) the Sheriff-Substitute, Procurator Fiscal, Sheriff-Clerk Depute, and a party of officers are starting for that island to investigate the matter.
1843 July 12 The Scotsman
HIGH COURT OF JUDICIARY. Monday, July 10. – William Sharpe or McFie, from Redbanks, Wasbister, in the Island of Rousay, Orkney, was put to the bar on a charge of bigamy, in so far as, on the 25th July 1831, he was married by the Rev. Mr Morren of Greenock to Mary McFie, and thereafter lived and cohabited with her as his lawful wife; and she being yet alive, he, on the 24th January, 1842, in the house at Westness, in the Island of Rousay, occupied by William Traill, Esq. Of Woodwick, one of her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, entered into a matrimonial connection with Ann Marwick, by formally declaring himself and Marwick man and wife. After a lengthened trial, the jury found the prisoner guilty as libelled; and he was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment.
1844 June 28 Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser
LAW OF MARRIAGE IN ENGLAND, IRELAND, AND SCOTLAND. - .....The difference between the English and Scotch Marriage Laws has recently been strikingly illustrated and brought out by two criminal trials for bigamy – the one against George Millis, which occurred in Ireland; and the other against William Sharpe or McFie, which occurred in Scotland. In the former it was not disputed that there had been consent given in the two marriages charged against the prisoner; nay, it was not disputed that the marriage ceremonies had been performed by clergymen, but it was objected that the first marriage had not been solemnised, and that the ceremony had not been performed by a person in holy orders conferred by Episcopal ordination, but only by a Presbyterian clergyman, and that therefore it was not a valid marriage. The court gave effect to that objection, and the House of Lords, last year, upon a writ of error, refused to disturb the decision of the court below, considering that an indictment for bigamy in such circumstances could not be sustained against Millis. It was the decision in this very case which raised the existing excitement among the Presbyterians in Ireland.
The other case above alluded to, - viz. That of Sharpe or McFie, decided in Scotland, - stands out in striking contrast to that of Millis. That case was decided in the High Court of Justiciary, in July last year. In it the indictment did not charge that it had been celebrated by a clergyman of the Established Church, but it did not charge that it had been celebrated by a clergyman of any denomination. On the contrary, the indictment only charged the second marriage thus – “You did, on 24th January 1842, &c., within the house at Westness, in the Island of Rousay in Orkney, &c., possessed by William Traill, Esq. of Woodwick, one of her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace for said shire, wickedly and feloniously enter into a matrimonial connexion with Ann Marwick, &c.; and this you did by then and there appearing, along with the said Ann Marwick, in presence of the said William Traill, as a magistrate specially called upon to attest or witness a marriage or matrimonial connexion then formed or declared between you and the said Ann Marwick, and before Malcolm Corsie and John Logie, servant to the said William Traill, as witness to that said matrimonial connexion.” It was objected in that case by the prisoner’s counsel that the second marriage was not formal and regular, but merely clandestine, and that therefore an indictment for bigamy could not be sustained. But the Court, without hearing an answer from the Crown, repelled the objection, “observing that a marriage celebrated before a J.P., though not in accordance with the rules of the Church, WAS LEGAL to all intents and purposes in forming the matrimonial connexion and carrying civil rights, and that it would open the door to innumerable evils if a party who married a second wife, knowing that his marriage with the first still subsisted, could escape punishment by having the marriage ceremony performed in presence of a magistrate instead of a clergyman.” The prisoner in that case was found guilty, and was sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment.
In Ireland, therefore, George Millis, who had entered into matrimonial connexions, both of which had been celebrated by clergymen, was found to have committed no crime, because his first marriage had not been solemnized by a person in holy orders; whereas, in Scotland, William Sharpe, who had also entered into two marriages, was held guilty and punished, although the second marriage in his case had not only not been celebrated by a clergyman in holy orders, or in the Established Church, but had not been celebrated by a clergyman at all, and only declared in presence of a Justice of the Peace and two witnesses. The Irish marriages were confessedly more formal and regular than the Scotch, yet the Irishman was absolved, and the Scotchman convicted.....
[In the Rousay census of 1841 there was an Ann Marwick, aged 20, living at Hanover in Sourin. By 1851 she was married, but it was stated that ‘Husband at Hudson’s Bay’.]
1844 September 6 Greenock Advertiser
The following melancholy accident happened on the 26th ult. in the bay of Kirkwall: - A boat from Rousay was run down one of the boats contending for the prize at the boat races. Every effort was made to save the men, who were so suddenly subjected to such imminent danger, and all the crew were picked up, except one man, who sunk to rise no more. What makes his loss the more to be deplored, is, that he has left a wife and five children to mourn the sad bereavement which they have sustained.
1850 December 27 John o’ Groat Journal
THE LANDRAIL. – As I am on Natural History, I may mention that a gentleman belonging to Kirkwall, while out shooting last Friday, killed a landrail which his dog pointed at. I have mentioned before, in writing of the landrail or corn-craik, that, although most writers on ornithology make out that this bird migrates every year, yet gentlemen of this place believe they do not, but hibernate or sleep all winter in old walls, &c. Instances are known of their being found in this state in Orkney. This may be another link in the chain of evidence of their being found here in winter. One was heard a winter or two ago at Westness, Rousay, with its usual summer craik-craik cry.
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