Quandale and Westness in Rousay were the only places in Orkney to suffer major clearances, firstly in 1845 and again between 1855 and 1859. Quandale was renowned for being one of the best corn-growing areas in the Northern Isles, but the laird, George William Traill, thought that sheep would be more profitable.

After the harvest of 1845 he evicted the 215 people and destroyed their farmsteads as part of the modernisation of his Westness estate. Some crofters were found dwellings else-where in Rousay, some became landless labourers, while others left the island.

Traill’s successor was General Sir Frederick William Traill Burroughs. He created such difficulties for the island’s crofters that he gained the reputation as the worst landlord in Orkney and was known as the ‘Little General.’

Conflict came with the visit of the Royal Commission whose findings were to lead to the Crofters Act. Burroughs evicted those tenants who gave evidence to the Commission, and with tensions running high a gunboat was sent to keep the peace.

Burroughs would have driven every crofter from his estate had the Crofters Act prevented him from doing so, the crofters having challenged the laird’s right to control the social and economic life of the island.

When Burroughs arrived to make his home in Rousay, John Gibson of Langskaill, as tenant of the largest farm, said, in his speech of welcome, “No connection between man and man ought to be more carefully guarded than that betwixt landlord and tenant…..” It was exactly this relationship which went disastrously wrong in Rousay.

Even after 35 years’ residence in Rousay, Burroughs remained a curiously alien figure. He might have owned the island but he never belonged to it. Ownership was important to him, but he had originally wanted more than that. Part of his ideal had been to settle into the community and become part of it. Money could buy ownership, but belonging – that close identification with a place and its people – was a more difficult matter. It was ownership and the gulf it created between laird and tenant, which made belonging impossible.

Today in Quandale the pattern of houses and fields can still be seen and shows the complicated system of runrigs previously used to divide up the land, a broad and bare semi-circular depression facing the open sea. In westerly gales the full force of the Atlantic breaks along a line of low cliffs and sheets of salt spray are carried hundreds of yards inland; the crofters of old often complaining that their corn suffered badly from ‘sea gust.’ This deserted community is now home for some of Rousay’s most rare and beautiful flowers and birds.



Blackhammer is a croft high up on the hillside in Wasbister. In 1851 it was occupied by Henry Craigie and his family. Henry, born c.1798, was the second son of Hugh Craigie and Janet Marwick of Quoygray. In 1815 he married 19-year-old Mary Craigie of Saviskaill. The 1851 census describes Henry as a 73-year-old pauper, formerly a farmer. Living with him and his wife were two of their children, 29-year-old son James, who worked as an agricultural labourer and fisherman, and 24-year-old daughter Betsy, who also worked on the land. The annual rent was 10s.

The familiar whitewashed gable end of Blackhammer – and Kirkgate below

Living at this time in Lower Blackhammer, later called the Manse, was the Louttit family, 72-year-old stonemason Alexander, his wife, 55-year-old Janet Craigie, 28-year-old son Edward, and 15-year-old daughter Betsy, both of whom were agricultural labourers. Edward Louttit was expelled from Rousay by the laird for taking seagull eggs from the Lobust. He went to live in Stronsay.

Further down the hill at Kirkgate was the Pearson family. James Pearson and Mary Leonard were a 40-year-old couple with seven children.

The census of 1871 reveals that Henry Craigie had died and the head of the Blackhammer household was his youngest son John, born on January 2nd1837. John’s mother Mary was now in her 78th year, and his sister Betsy, 44-years-old and still unmarried, was housekeeper, while he himself was a fisherman. In 1873 John paid an annual rent of £1 10s. for the 12.2 acres of land at Blackhammer.

Blackhammer in 1975 – before the middle and upper houses were modernised

Lower Blackhammer was still occupied by Alexander Louttit, then 95-years-old and described as a farmer of six acres, and his wife Janet, who was then 76. Daughter Barbara, 42-years-old and unmarried, was employed as an agricultural labourer, and her illegitimate 18-year-old son William Louttit, earned money as an apprentice shoemaker. In 1873 the extent of the land at the Manse covered 15.3 acres, for which Barbara Louttit paid an annual rent of £1.

Moonrise over Blackhammer – just after 9pm on a May evening

Mary Craigie, a 52-year-old widow, lived at Upper Kirkgate at this time and earned a living as a stocking knitter.

In 1891, John Craigie still lived at Blackhammer, his mother Mary having died there in 1873. John married Mary Sinclair in 1883 and they had two children; Mary, born on October 26th 1884, and Jemima Janet, born on May 27th 1886. Mary Sinclair was the daughter of Peter Sinclair and Janet Louttit of Deerness, and she was born in 1846. On November 18th 1869 she had a son, James Robertson, whose father was James Robertson, a servant at Scockness. On October 17th 1872 she had a daughter, Alexina Louttit Sinclair. Alexina lived at Blackhammer and before she was married she had a son, James Craigie Inkster Sinclair, born on October 19th 1904. She later married the father, David Pearson Inkster, a blacksmith, and they went to Canada taking James Sinclair with them. By that time he was known as James Inkster, but he died in 1915. They had two other children in Hamilton, Ontario, John William, born on March 18th 1915, and Mary Margaret, born on February 4th 1917.

At Lower Blackhammer, then called the Manse, Alexander and Janet Louttit had passed away, but their daughter Barbara still lived there, now 65 years old and described as a ‘small farmer.’ Also at the Manse was 37-year-old washerwoman Margaret Gibson, widow of William Louttit of Maybank, Wasbister, who had passed away in 1884. She was known as Maggie o’ Maybank and they had three children, Maggie Jessie, born in 1877, Isabella, born in 1878, and William, born in 1882.

In later years Blackhammer’s notoriety spread far and wide, for when occupant Maggie Watson decided to leave Rousay her nearest neighbour Jim o’ Deithe composed a polka to record the event. The tune is performed to this day by many Orcadian musicians – Maggie Watson’s Farewell to Blackhammer.


Vanished Houses in Rousay

A list of ‘vanished’ houses in Rousay
compiled by Tommy Gibson

WASBISTER [Wester, Wesder]

Hammerbelow Innister
GornW. of Hammer
Meron Meeronbelow Falquoy
Lows Houseditto
Maybankfront of School
Brokislandon Saviskaill
BatycrasE. side Head of Saviskaill
Gruthin GrithinN.W. Head of Saviskaill
SacquoyW. of Headland
Bare Braesabove Cogar
Easter LeeS.E. Langskaill
Upper LeeThe Leean
Flottyabove Langskaill
Gue, Goo, Upperabove Turbitail
Heather Hall?
Howatoftnear Saviskaill
NuggleW. Wester Hill
Stack Back?
South Neagar?
Powienear White Meadows
Quoy Garson?
Nether Breckan?
Oot o the Toon?
Lower BrigadayE. of the Loch
Upper Brigadayabove road

FROTOFT [Frotet, Froted] and BRINIAN [Brinzian]

Old Bankssite of Yorville
Newarknear Cruseday
Cluiknear Yorville
Catholeabove Nears
Geramountabove Nears
Mannersabove Nears
Quoyjennyabove Hunclett
Ladyhammernear Pier Cottage
Blackhammer Cott.?
MyreEast of Nears
Dishansin yard of Trumland Farm
Cott Mowat, CommodeEast of Brinian House
Cottbelow Seaview
BrenionNorth-West of Brinian House
New Grindly?


WindbreckEast of Clumpy
ShorehouseBetween Co-op Stable and Woo
MilnhouseBetween school and Woo
Upper GrippsWest of Curquoy
Upper SwartifieldBelow the Blossan
Mid Swartifield?
HusabaeBelow Essaquoy
QueenamugleBelow Fa’doon
Eastafeaon Faraclett
Midfea or Mithvieon Faraclett
Peenonear Hanover
Wallhousenear Knarston
Quadraanear Faroe
Mill Braeabove Sourin mill
Skoanon land of Knarston near Gorehouse
Scarabreckon Faraclett between Mithvie and Eastfea
Castle by North?
Grind Braiknear Kingarly
Lower Grippsbelow Upper Gripps
Feelyhanear Cruannie
Lower Brecknear Leenburn
Old Man o Kinga?
Midland Midgarth?
Neuksnear Hanover
Greysteenbelow Midgarth
Hillside (Boggle Ha)West of Curquoy
Geroynenear the Old School
The Bungalowabove Avelsay
Lower Classyquoyat the road of Springfield
Brekantop field north side of the road Avelsay


House Map

The location of some of the old houses on Rousay