Alexander Marwick

Alexander Rufus Marwick

[This article was printed in issue No 75 of The Orkney View, Dec 1997/Jan 1998.
My thanks to the editors Alastair and Anne Cormack, and of course
Tommy Gibson himself for allowing its reproduction.]

Alexander Rufus Marwick was born at Loweshouse, on Rousay, and moved later to Lerquoy and then to Corse. His wife was Isabella Gibson, Langskaill, daughter of old David Gibson and his first wife Jean Marwick. Mr Marwick of Corse had five children.

He wrote the following for General Burroughs about 1870. Thanks go to Tom Gibson, Brinola, Rousay for passing these memories on to us.

”l was born in Loweshouse in the district of Wasbister in the year 1801. First of my minding the Island of Rousay belonged to eleven different proprietors, viz;

Mr Traill of Westness
Mr Rowland Marwick of Estquoy
Mr John Harrold of Cot and Cliver
Mr Traill of Quandale
Earl of Zetland
Mr Balfour of Shapinsay
Mr Baikie of Tankerness
Mr Rae of Viera
Mr Spence of the Mill and Brake
Mr Traill of Frotoft
Mr John Craigie of Hullion

The first tenant I mind in Westness was widow Craigie, and in the farm, Archibald Hume. The first tenant I mind in Saviskaill was John lnkster who afterwards became the proprietor of the estate of Saviskaill. The first tenants I mind in Langskaill were David Gibson and William Harcus. In Faraclett was I McKay, in Scockness was Hugh Marwick, in Banks, Sourin was James Mainland, in Knarston G W Craigie, in Avelshay Leslie Mainland, in Trumbland James Yorston, in Nears William Craigie, in Banks (F) Alexander Mainland, in Corse James Yorston.

From the dyke of Grind to the Lobust I remember forty families, all of whom had land more or less. On that land together with the hill privilege they kept seventy horse, 220 cattle and between 600 and 700 sheep. All the land at that time was ploughed with the old side-plough with one arm, and drawn with three or four horses. At that time there was not a cart in the island, nor a harrow with iron teeth. The first two-armed plough I remember was on the farm of Saviskaill, and the first cart belonged to Drummond Louttit on the farm of Upper Quandale. The only crops grown at that time were oats and bere and a few potatoes. Every house also had a large cabbage yard, which was very useful for the family use and also for the cattle.

In the summer the hill swarmed with horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and geese. The sheep were divided into flocks or haants, as they were called. They came to the shore in the winter to eat the seaweed when the sea was down, and they went to the hill when it began to flow. There was more beef and mutton used in one year than is now used in ten years.

The first church l attended was the church on the Westside. The minister’s name was Paterson who preached in the Egilshay Church one Sabbath and in the Westside on the other, till the Established Church was built in the Brinian in 1815. There was one parochial school in the island and one Society school. In the parochial school was Mr Leask, and in the Society school was Mr Smeaton.

In my boyhood there were some men belonging to this island that went to Shetland every summer for the purpose of bartering goods. They gave linen and other goods for bed rugs, ponies and gin. They would have given fifteen shillings for a fine Shetland pony. The boats that they went with would have been from sixteen to twenty feet of keel rigged with a large square sail. The time they would be away would be about three weeks. Sometimes they were much annoyed by French pirates during the French war. About the end of the French war Britain was so short of men that they had to press men for the army and navy. There was some very exciting scenes come under my observation trying to avoid the press gang. There were some young men of Wasbister who had to sleep in the Haas of Gamlie, the rocks behind Stennisgorn, for safety all night. I knew a man belonging to Egilshay who slept in the middle of a stack of oats all night, for the whole of one winter, in a room which he had prepared for himself.

The principal means which the young men had of earning money was the whale fishing at Davis Strait, and some of them went to Hudson Bay service. The old women’s earning was the spinning of lint. The young women’s earnings was of plaiting straw. The farmers‘ summer work was the making of kelp.

In the first of my minding Christmas was kept as follows. Every house that grew crops brewed some ale for Christmas. On Christmas Eve every house killed a sheep, but they had neither white bread nor tea. Their bread was oatcakes and sowan scones. When they got cod in the Christmas week they baked a cake of bere meal and cod livers which was as good as, and liked as much as, any shortbread of the present day. The young men played football until dark, then they went to a fiddler’s house and danced until twelve at night. New Year’s Day was as well kept. On New Year’s Eve young men went from door to door singing the New Year’s Song, whereupon the door was quickly opened and the singers were set down to the best in the house. It was looked upon as a token of respect to those whom they visited, but ill-loved neighbours were general y passed over.

In 1801 a ship was wrecked below Saviskaill under ballast (pink granite). In 1807 a ship was wrecked below Langskaill loaded with lint. In I816 a ship was wrecked in the Klink Geos in the Lean under timber.

The grouse were very plentiful then, much more so or what they are at the present day. Whenever a bull got mad it was put to the hill, making it not a very safe place to go without some weapon of defence. I once heard of a daring adventure which a man had with a bull in the Rousay Hills. The man was at the hill in search of his horse when the bull saw him, above the Muckle Water. The man ran to the soft bog or quag, as it is called. The bull followed him into the quag and stuck. The man, John Craigie of Claybank, drew his big knife and killed the bull.

About the commencement of the century a child of the name of Mowat, two years of age, strayed from the house of Myars in Sourin in a thick mist. They looked for him for two days in vain. A dog belonging to Furse in Wasbister was missed the same day the child went away. The dog came home the third day and got some food. He went away as soon as he had taken it. He was followed by the servant man. The dog ran to a pigsty on the Brings. When the servant man came to the sty the dog made for springing on him. He looked inside and saw the child alive and well. He took it home with him and went and told its parents who gladly came for it. He lived in Rousay to an old age. I knew him well. The most remarkable thing about it was that before the dog would venture home for food he sent all the swine about a mile away from the sty in which the child was found.

In those days superstition prevailed among people to a great extent. But when the home brewn ale was less used their superstition died away.”