The land at Banks, between Hullion and Corse, was cultivated and where animals were reared by farmer Nicol Mainland. He was the son of James Mainland and Christian Louttit of Cotafea, and he was born on June 9th 1800. In his younger days Nicol was engaged in the whaling industry in the Davis Strait, lying between Greenland and Nunavut, Canada. The industry was a great attraction for young Orcadians, the whaling ships calling in at Stromness to take on stores and extra crew before voyaging up to Greenland and the Davis Strait. At its peak recruitment could be as high as 20-25 men per ship and records show that in 1824 some 700 men from Orkney went whaling. It was a dangerous trade and many ships were lost, or stranded in the ice for months at a time.

In 1822 Nicol fathered an illegitimate son by Isabel Harrold. James Mainland was born on July 20th at Peeno, an old house near the bank of the Burn of Oldman in Sourin. The Old Parochial Register birth record reads as follows:

James, natural son to Nicol Mainland, son of Jas Mainland in Cotafea, and Isabel Harold in Pino, son born 20th July and baptised the 27th August before witnesses Christian Mowat, Mother of Isabel Harold being Sponsor of the child, as neither the father, who was absent at the Straits, fishing, and the mother who has not yet been absolved from Scandal, could be so and the child was apprehended to be ill and dying from chest cough.

Isabel Harrold was born on February 18th 1801 at Woo, Sourin. Her parents were James Harrold and Christian Mowat. There is no trace of Isabel and son James thereafter in any Scottish records.  Perhaps James was indeed sickly as suggested by the OPR and he died in infancy. It has also been rumoured that James survived, but because of the scandal mother and son left Rousay (and Scotland) shortly afterwards.

On March 26th 1830 Nicol married Margaret Louttit, one of the twin daughters of William Louttit and Isabella Craigie of Faraclett, born on January 19th 1803. Between 1831 and 1846 they had of seven children; Margaret, William, Lydia, John, Mary, Isabella and Robert Dennison. In 1839 Nicol Mainland took on a 19-year lease, paying an annual rent of £15.15.0. By 1862 the rent had risen to £22.10.0, and in 1876 he was paying £25.10.0.

Son William, born in 1833, earned his living as a tailor and he lived at Banks with his wife Hannah Marwick, daughter of Alexander Marwick and Isabella Gibson of Negar in Wester, later Corse. They had a son John who was born on November 26th 1866, but he died three years later.

The laird’s wife Lizzie Burroughs was interested in the condition of the tenants’ houses. She was keen to see them establish flower gardens in front of their cottages and offered to provide roots and cuttings from her own garden, but she did not meet with much response. At her instigation a clause was included in the new estate regulations of 1876 that all buildings were to be whitewashed every three years, and supplies of lime for this purpose were supplied free of charge to the smaller tenants. From 1877 she offered a prize for the best-kept cottage ‘within fifty yards of the public road’ – as she evidently did not intend to inspect some of the more out of the way places. Prizes usually went to cottages in the Frotoft and Trumland areas, those parts of Rousay most under her influence and containing a large number of estate servants.

The following is an item from the Orkney Herald of August 29th 1877:-

In the competition for cleanest and most tastefully kept cottages throughout the year, within 50 yards of the public road in Rousay, the prizes were won in the following order on Saturday: – First prize, (£1), Mrs Hannah Mainland, Banks, Frotoft; Second Prize (15s.), Mr Nicol Mainland, Banks, Frotoft; Third Prize  (10s.), Miss Ann Marwick, Corse, Frotoft; Fourth Prize (5s.), Mr Reid, Sourin.

Nicol died of general debility and ‘old age’ on July 13th 1881. His son Robert Dennison Mainland married Margaret Baikie from Cloke, Birsay, and farmed Nears for many years. He died in 1927.

The spectacular waterfalls above Banks, in full spate following snow melt

At the time of the 1891 census Banks was occupied by farmer John Robertson and his wife Isabella Corsie. John, born in November 1846, was the son of William Robertson of Egilsay and Elizabeth Harcus. He and Isabella had four daughters; Isabella, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, and Margaret. The Robertsons later moved to Cotafea.

Living at Lower Banks at this time was widowed joiner James Low, who was seventy-four years of age. He used to live with his wife Christina at Quoyjenny, on the east side of the road down to Hunclet. James’ unmarried 40-year-old daughter Margaret, a former dressmaker, lived with him at Lower Banks, as did his widowed daughter Mary Corsie, then 36 years old, and her fifteen-year-old son James. Mary married James Sinclair Corsie of Nears in 1873, but their son, also christened James Sinclair Corsie, was born – six months after his father’s untimely death.

James Corsie senior was interred in the Westside kirkyard. The headstone on his grave is inscribed as follows:

‘Erected by Mary Corsie in memory of her dearly beloved husband
James S Corsie who died 19 Feb 1875 aged 42 years.
“A few short years of evil past: We reach the happy shore:
Where death divided friends at last. Shall meet to part no more.”
Also the above Mary Corsie who died 22 Dec 1925
aged 71′

Living under another roof at Banks in 1891 was 26-year-old tailor and grocer John Shearer from Sanday. With him was his 23-year-old wife Lydia Marwick, and their two young sons, John aged two, and William, just 11 months old. Lydia was the daughter of William Marwick and Robina Gibson of Corse, and was born in July 1867. She and husband John, who worked for the Craigies of Hullion, went on to have six more children; Robert, Eva, James, David, Hugh, and Lydia.

The old flagstone roof at Banks being replaced.

Thomas Sinclair was a later inhabitant of Banks. He was the son of Thomas Sinclair of Swandale and Hurtiso and Mary Gibson of Broland. In 1905 Thomas junior married Mary Inkster, daughter of Hugh Inkster of Westness and Isabella Kirkness of Quoyostray. They had four children; Thomas, born in 1907; Ann [Cissie] born in 1908; Mary Isabel [Mabel] in 1910; and Lily in 1918.

Tom Sinclair, wife Mary, daughters Lilly & Cissie & Chip the dog

Tom Sinclair sen wife Mary, son Tom [jun] & daughters Lilly & Mabel

Like his father before him Thomas [leaning on the wall above] ran the Rousay–Evie post-boat for many years. He married Bella Flaws of Wyre and they had two children; Thomas and Muriel. Ann [Cissie] married William Moar of Saviskaill, later Aberdeenshire, and they had four children, Greta, Joyce, William, and Verdon. Mabel married Bill Flaws of Hammerfield. Lily married David Miller of Hestival, Evie, and later Aberdeenshire, and they had three children; Ruth, William, and Judy. Lily was the teacher at Wasbister from 1943 until the school closed down in 1960.

Thomas Sinclair crossing Eynhallow Sound in the Bella, between Hullion pier & Evie, c1955 – and the Sinclair sisters Cissie, Lily & Mabel. c1930.

Mary Mainland [known to one and all as Granny], daughter of Nicol, was born on August 3rd 1840 and featured in the columns of The Orcadian when she celebrated her 100th birthday.
– Mabel Sinclair with husband Bill Flaws, posing for my camera at Hammerfield in 1975.

Another view of the waterfall above Banks, with the lush green fields of Frotoft, Eynhallow Sound, Gairsay, and the Orkney mainland in the distance.

[All b/w photos are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection, unless otherwise stated.]