Orkney Magazine No 1 – The Drift Back. A film produced for the Orkney County Council’s Education Committee by Margaret Caroline Tait (Ancona Films) in 1956. We see Neil Flaws and his family, Alice, John and Sheila, return to Halbreck, Wyre.
FARA – The Orkney Series – Episode 9. Jeana Leslie and Kristan Harvey visited Rousay in October 2020. After relating the island’s history they visit Jim Craigie’s old home and play his best-known tune – Maggie Watson’s Farewell to Blackhammer.
This is a reproduction of a hand-written document describing a shipwreck on the northern coast of Rousay in 1783-84 – and an investigation into the circumstances of its loss…..and plunder.
At Edinburgh the ? day of March 1784
The which day Compeared Archibald Stuart sometime shipmaster now merchant in the Island of Westray who being examined and interrogated Declares that the Declarant left the Islands of Orkney on Friday the 19th [of December 1783] current and came to Leith on board the sloop Ann of Westray, John Seater master, upon Tuesday the 23rd [of December] current Declares that some short time after Christmas last, it was reported in the Island of Westray, that a ship had been cast away upon the Island of Rousay distant from Westray about 8 miles by water. That by some it was said there were people on board the ship and by others that there were none. That about fourteen days after the ship was cast away as aforesaid it was reported in the Island of Westray that a dead body of a man had been thrown on shore from the wreck with the head off and naked. That about 8 days after that it was also reported that another body of a man had been thrown ashore on the Island of Rousay naked. And that the people in Rousay were also said to have rose upon the ships company and destroyed them and plundered the ship but of all this the Declarant knows nothing but by report. This he declares to be truth.
Mitchel Craigie tenant in Frothead [Mitchel lived at Hullion, Frotoft] in Rousay presently in Leith Declares that he left the Island of Rousay four weeks on Monday last, and came to Leith from the Island of Orkney on board the William, Kirkwall, Hugh Sclater master, on the 16th day of March  Current. Declares that after Christmas last a ship was wrecked on the rocks in the Island of Rousay, the name of which ship or where she came from the Declarant did not hear. That the 4th day after the ship was wrecked, the Declarant saw a piece of the wreck that had been forced on shore. That the Declarant who lives at about 5 miles distant from the place where the ship was wrecked heard in about a fortnight thereafter that the body of a man wanting the head had been forced on shore, but the Declarant did not see the body. That the Declarant never heard it said or reported that the people of the Country had got up and destroyed the men of the ship or plundered the wreck. This he declares to be truth. The said Mitchel Craigie being further examined by the Sheriff Declares that the Declarant bought some of the spirits and tea which were thrown on shore from the said wreck – the spirits from William Craigie and the tea from Jane Marwick his wife who lives near to the place where the ship was wrecked. This he Declares to be truth.
That in about 10 days thereafter the Declarant heard that the body of a man had been thrown ashore upon the Island of Rousay without the head and quite naked over the body all but a boot on one of his legs. Declared that when the Declarant was on the Island of Rousay he went into the house of Alexander Marwick, tenant in Sibeskill [Saviskaill].That there he saw in a window an English Bible with the name of Robert Kelly upon it and bearing to have been bought in the year 1781 and Galic Book – That these books were all wet over with salt water and the Declarant is positive they came from the vessel which had been wrecked and he mentioned this to the said Alexander Marwick, who said it was not so, But that they belonged to him and had fallen into a tub of water. That it was in the possession of the said Alexander Marwick, William Marwick his son, David Marwick his cousin tenant in the house of Furse, that the Declarant saw the casks of spirits above mentioned, that the Declarant was told by the said Marwick that he had got the Captain’s chest of the wrecked vessel in which he found six ruffled shirts, half a guinea in gold, some silver, a pair of silver buckles and a silver watch. That when the Declarant was at the wreck, there were above a hundred people clearing her up, among whom were the three Marwicks. That the Declarant reproved them for what they were doing and told them it became them better to have set a guard upon the ship and her cargo to protect both and that they would certainly be called to account for their doing so. To which they answered it was Gods send and that he had nothing to do with the matter.
That the Declarant looking upon himself as a stranger in the place he meddled no farther in the matter and being interrogate and solemnly sworn if he heard a report or knew anything about the Country peoples rising upon the crew of the vessel and killing them and bereaving them of their lives Depones that when the Deponent was upon the Island of Rousay as before mentioned he was informed by different persons upon the island that when William Marwick who first discovered the wreck and first went to it, there were two men seen floating in the creek a little from the ship, one of whom was seen breathing and the other appeared to be dead, but that for the sake of the wreck he gave the man who appeared to be living no assistance and allowed both their bodys to remain in the water. And amongst those who mentioned the above to the Deponent were William Irving tenant in Breckan and his wife, George Folster indweller there and a tenant of Graemsey and Magnus Yorston brother to Hugh Yorston Chamberlain to Graemsey was the person who was in company with the Deponent when he went into the house of Alexander Marwick tenant in Saviskaill as aforesaid when he saw the Bible and Galic book. Depones that the naked man’s body wanting the head which was found as before mentioned was reported by the Country people to belong to the said vessel. Depones that the Deponent was of opinion that the wrecked vessel had come from Faro and that she sailed from Faro in company with another vessel who was overtaken by the storm betwixt Blackcraig in the Orkneys and Whillinghead [?] in the Highlands next to Orkney and carried away her bowsprit and bore away for Burray in Orkney where she refitted and put to sea again, after which she delivered her cargo in Loch Squilly [Lough Swilly, County Donegal ?] as the Deponent has since heard. Depones that besides the casks above mentioned the Deponent saw in the possession of Alexander Marwick a box of tea, and five other boxes of tea in the possession of different other persons. Depones that David Marwick is a tenant of Sir Thomas Dundas’s and the other two Marwicks are tenants of John Traill Esq of Westness. This is truth as he shall answer to.
[‘signed’ with, what looks like, a thumb print]
I am indebted to Janet Craigie-McConnell of Victoria, Australia, for sending me photo copies of pages of this document for inclusion on the Rousay Remembered website.
In 1783 Hugh Marwick and his father Magnus took over the joint tenancy of the farm of Scockness in Rousay. Hugh was only seventeen years old but in all other respects already a man and ready to take on the responsibilities of the partnership. Ten years later he married Betsy Sinclair from a neighbouring farm and in the course of the next eighteen years she bore him ten children, every one of them a boy. In her old age Betsy was asked how many children she had had. Thinking, no doubt, of all these mischievous boys and never a girl to comfort a mother’s heart, she replied, “Ten devils.”
The two eldest devils, Magnus and Thomas, were married and still living at Scockness when their father died in 1820. They continued working the farm until evicted by the laird because of a dispute over kelp making. Thomas then took the tenancy of Banks for a few years before moving to Woo nearby. Tammy o’ Woo, as he was known, and his wife Ann Gibson from Broland had ﬁve sons and ﬁve daughters. All but two of them as well as Tammy himself would eventually emigrate to New Zealand.
The Free Church of Scotland in co-operation with a company in New Zealand organised large scale emigration from Scotland to Otago after New Zealand came under British rule in 1840. The city of Dunedin, named after the Scottish capital, was the creation of these early Free Kirk settlers. It is likely that the Woo Marwicks who were staunch members of the Free Kirk in Sourin took advantage of the sponsorship their church offered.
The eldest son Hugh who was a boat builder to trade was the ﬁrst to go. He left in 1855 with his wife Margaret Sinclair from Swandale and their two children, Annie aged two and Elizabeth who was still just a baby in arms. The sadness of parting would soon give way to brighter thoughts of their future in a new land and it must have been a severe blow to this young family when baby Elizabeth died at sea, a victim of the cramped and harsh conditions of a sailing ship on a twelve-week voyage. Hugh and Margaret did not stay in New Zealand very long and soon set sail across the Tasman Sea for Australia. At their new home in Victoria they had four more children but Annie was the only one to marry. Her granddaughter who lives near Melbourne is one of my Australian correspondents. Another is a great granddaughter of William who emigrated about the same time as his brother Hugh and like him spent only a short time in New Zealand before trying his luck in Victoria where he married and settled down to raise a family of eleven children.
William’s eldest son, William Thomas, moved to Western Australia in the 1890’s when the goldﬁelds around Kalgoorlie were luring people from far and wide. After a few years he bought some land and set to the back-breaking task of clearing it to make the productive dairy farm it was to become within a few years. Of William Thomas’s nine children one still survives aged eighty-five. A recent family tree from Western Australia shows almost 300 descendants of William Thomas in less than 100 years.
Three more of the second devil’s family were to follow Hugh and William to New Zealand in the late 1850’s, namely lsaac, Betsy and Mary. Little more is known of lsaac except that he got married but there do not appear to have been any children. Betsy had married Hugh Yorston in 1842 and had six children when they left for Dunedin in 1859. They sailed from the Clyde on June 10 and reached their destination ninety-three days later after a voyage on which four babies had been born (one of them to Hugh and Betsy) and eight children under the age of three had died. The Yorstons had been allocated a stretch of land some miles south of Dunedin but instead of tramping to it along the roughly gravelled road the family followed an old Maori track over the hills with the father and the boys carrying all their possessions while Betsy and the girls took turns at carrying the infant. While the mother and younger children stayed with friends the father and the others set to to build a stone and clay house. Some years later it was replaced by an imposing wooden building giving its occupants, both past and present, a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. It still bears the name Mount Pleasant which the Yorstons gave it. It took many years of hard labour to clear the native bush to create the large farm Mount Pleasant eventually became. It has now been broken up into smaller units but some measure of its original size can be gained from the eight-horse stable that still stands.
When Mary, who had gone out at about the same time as the Yorstons, arrived in Otago she met up with Richard Craigie whom she had known in Rousay and who had emigrated with his parents some years earlier. Soon they were married. Their ﬁrst child died in infancy but another, named after his father, arrived the following year. Tragically Mary died a few months after the birth.
Back in Rousay the mother of the Woo family died in 1861. By that time ﬁve out of the ten children were overseas. Of those still in Rousay John and Margaret were married and settled in homes of their own. Tammy the second devil was by then sixty-five years of age and at home with him were Thomas Jr., Isabella and Ann who at sixteen was the youngest of the family. After a few months it was decided that the four of them should join the others in New Zealand. They left Rousay in the summer of 1862. For some years Tammy had been an elder in the Rousay Free Kirk and the kirk session minutes of 25 May 1862 record his resignation and in a glowing tribute speak of the session’s “high appreciation of his Christian character and worth and their great esteem for him as a personal friend.” After recording their regret at his departure the session expresses the hope that Mr Marwick and those of his family who accompany him “will continue to adorn the doctrine of God in that distant colony.”
Tammy’s nephew, Hugh Marwick, who was a son of Isaac the ninth devil, decided to accompany his uncle to New Zealand. Hugh was twenty-one years old and after a few years down under working as a carpenter and boatbuilder he returned to Rousay to marry the girl he had left behind. With his bride he set off for New Zealand once more and their ﬁrst child Betsy Ann was born there. Before long however the family returned to Rousay and settled at Guidal where Hugh carried on business as a shopkeeper, carpenter and boatbuilder, registrar, school attendance ofﬁcer and amateur dentist. He was the father of Dr Hugh Marwick.
When the last of the Woo family reached New Zealand they met Richard Craigie, the widower of Mary who had died a few months earlier. Before long Isabella and Richard had teamed up and eventually produced a further ten Craigie children. No doubt their union was frowned on, as a marriage between a man and a sister of his dead wife was outside the limits of acceptability at that time. Old Tammy lived out the rest of his days with Isabella and Richard at their farm of Craigielea. In a letter dated 28 October 1869, to his son Hugh in Victoria, Tammy writes of the kindness of Richard and Isabella. He wants for nothing and Richard is referred to as his best friend. Thomas Jr. is mentioned in this letter as working as grieve on Richard’s farm.
James Knarston, who was to become the husband of Ann, Tammy’s youngest daughter, ran away to sea from Stromness at the age of ﬁfteen. After several years service in both the Royal and Merchant navies he opted for a life in New Zealand. A spell at the gold diggings followed before he and Ann settled at Taieri Mouth, south of Dunedin, where James spent the rest of his life as a general merchant. Unfortunately Ann did not survive the birth of their only daughter Maryann whose daughter, now in her 80’s, is one of my New Zealand correspondents.
The Craigies held a family gathering in Dunedin in 1973 to mark the 125th anniversary of the arrival in New Zealand of Richard and his parents. In 1988 some of them decided it was time to have another and this was hastily arranged to coincide with the arrival in Dunedin of my wife and myself. (The writer is a great-great-grandson of the seventh devil). Through my interest in family history I knew about the New Zealand Craigies and it was a great thrill to walk into a gathering of 200 descendants of Richard and his two Marwick wives.
New Zealand is a very young country; man did not set foot on it till a mere 1200 years ago and no European settlement of any signiﬁcance took place until after 1840. New Zealanders cannot see far back into their history without looking beyond their own shores to places such as Scotland from where their ancestors set out in search of a better life. They acknowledge the debt they owe to these courageous pioneers who laid the foundations of the pleasant place New Zealand is today.
[Transcribed with permission from the editors of The Orkney View – issue No 42, published in 1992]
Crossing Eynhallow Sound on the little roll on – roll off ferry, the sun glinting on the turquoise sea like a thousand little mirrors, Tommy points to the sleek head of a selkie breaking through the shimmering shards of sea, eyes like wet, black saucers.
“lt’s good luck to spot a selkie,” he says and my heart lurches toward the sea as I recall the legend of the Seal People, so beautiful that whoever sees them falls instantly in love. Some, it is said, have shed their sealskins and mixed in with humans, so can never return to the sea.
We stand against the brightly painted railing and pose for photographs, leaning into one another awkwardly, new cousins, the island home of our fathers a green glow behind our backs.
And later that night as Tommy picks up his fiddle and I hear the first soft strains of music played with a delicate, articulate hand, it reaches a part of me that never understood my father’s dying, his leaving us so long ago on a cold, grey morning in November, childish face at the window, noticing the cars in the drive, knowing something, not knowing he was gone forever, leaving an ache and a longing like the sound a bow makes as it leaves the strings of a fiddle or the sight of a selkie, breaking through water like jewels, searching for the ones who are lost to us and will never return.
Kathleen’s father Hugh Craigie was born on December 19th 1899 at Deithe on Rousay. He emigrated to Canada in 1923, staying initially in Ontario then on to Owlseye Lake, Alberta, and finally settling just outside Vancouver, British Columbia.
Today there are 67 folk in the ‘Craigie Clan’ living in Canadian provinces and territories – 42 of whom are direct descendants of Hugh Gibson Craigie – youngest son of Hugh and Maggie o’ Deithe – who passed away on November 25th 1961.
Kathleen’s story won first prize in a ‘Flash Fiction’ contest in Monday Magazine, a local Victoria publication on Vancouver Island.
David Craigie was by all accounts a pleasant and well liked young man. His uncle described him in a letter to a friend as having a lightsome turn and as the best natured lad he had ever seen. Like his elder sister Christina and his younger sister Elizabeth, David was born and brought up on the small croft of Fa’doon with its buildings tucked in under a brae on the lower slopes of Keirfea Hill in Rousay. He attended the General Assembly school in Sourin which was situated across the road from the present school. When school attendance became compulsory in 1872 that building could not accommodate the seventy-ﬁve pupils attending and so, for the next few years until the new building was ready, the school was housed in the Free Kirk. A group photograph taken outside the kirk shows David, then about eight or nine years of age, as a well groomed boy with a pensive and wistful expression.
After leaving school David decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming an apprentice joiner. Writing to an Australian cousin at the end of his apprenticeship he complained, “We are working here in Rousay for ten shillings a week and if we had not other help that would not keep us.” In that same letter he bemoaned his inability to save any money, unlike his cousin Hugh Craigie who had served his apprenticeship at the same time. Hugh was later to become one of Rousay’s expert joiners, examples of whose meticulous work can still be seen on the island.
Emigration to Australia was very much on David’s mind as he reached his twentieth birthday in December 1883. For several months he had been in touch with a Tulloch family in Shapinsay, one of whose sons had been to Australia and was then back home. David had visited this young man in Shapinsay and from him had heard many tales of life down under. At this time, too, he was in regular correspondence with his aunt and cousins in Melbourne. Writing to one of them in January 1884 David expresses his hope of accompanying his Shapinsay friend when the latter “returns to Australia shortly.”
In that letter he also describes how he spent New Year’s Day. “We had a very beautiful New Year’s Day here this year and a very happy one. In the morning I went down to Swandale and Uncle Hugh and me went across to the island of Egilsay and spent most of the day there and in the evening we came back and I went to a dancing at Scockness at night.” At that time his sister Christina was a servant girl at Scockness.
David pushed ahead with his plans to emigrate. By the middle of March his passage had been booked on the P&O steamship Orient, due to sail from London on 16th April. He wrote to his cousin asking to be met at Melbourne “because I will be no ways acquaint there.”
Parting came a few weeks later. From his uncle Hugh, David received £5 with which to buy a watch and Christina gave him £6. 10s. which, by dint of hard saving, she had managed to accumulate from her meagre wages. He bade a fond and, no doubt, tearful farewell to his parents and sisters and left Orkney with the Tulloch brothers, arriving in London on 11th April. Next day he called at the shipping office to obtain his ticket on payment of four-ﬁfths of the £21 fare, and in the evening he penned a letter to his sister Elizabeth who was then aged thirteen. “My dear Sister,” he wrote, “I now embrace the opportunity to write these few lines to let you know I am well.” He went on to explain that their stop-over in Aberdeen had been longer than expected due to the London boat having been delayed by stormy weather. David had used this time to equip himself with a waterproof coat thus enabling him to claim that he was then “as well ﬁtted out as my companions.” He also gave his young sister an account of their visit to an Aberdeen music hall, no doubt his ﬁrst experience of the kind. “It was just about as ﬁne a sight as ever I saw. It was a very ﬁne ornamented room and there was two most beautiful girls came out and danced and they could do it.” David asked Elizabeth to tell their mother that he had eaten the hen she had given him but he reckoned he had enough cheese to see him as far as Melbourne.
After ﬁve days in London in the cheapest lodgings they could ﬁnd at half-a-crown a day for bed and board, David and his friends paid the balance of their fares and boarded the Orient at Gravesend. She was a ship of 5,386 tons plying between London, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. [Alan Grieve adds the following information:- David ran out of money in London and wired home for more. His father walked to Frotoft and rowed across to Evie, walked to Kirkwall, drew money from the bank and wired it off to London, walked back to Evie, rowed back to Rousay and walked home all in one day. (Frotoft being the shortest distance by sea to the mainland)].
£21 for a steerage passage did not buy much in the way of comfort and even less of high living. David’s ticket, now in the possession of his nephew, is a document the size of this page. It lists what the steerage passenger’s entitlements were, viz., not less than 15 cubic feet of luggage space, 3 quarts of water daily (not counting what was needed for cooking), and the following weekly scale of provisions:-
Flour 3 lbs Bread 4 lbs Salt beef or pork 1½ lbs Pressed Meat 1½ lbs Soup & Boulli ½ lb Suet 6 ozs Peas ½ pint Oatmeal ¼ lb Rice ½ lb Pres. Potato ½ lb or fresh 2 lb Tea 2 oz
Coffee ¼ lb Sugar 1 lb Butter 6 ozs Treacle ¼ lb Vinegar 1 gill Pickles ¼ pint Mustard ½ oz Salt 2 ozs Pepper ½ oz Cheese ¼ lb Raisins/ Currants ½ lb Lime juice in tropics 6 ozs
It was stipulated that various substitutions could be made at the master’s discretion, e.g. pressed meat for salted, or rice for oatmeal. Steerage passengers had to provide their own bedding as well as mess utensils such as cutlery, plates, and drinking mug.
The Orient made good time through the Mediterranean heading for the Suez Canal which had been opened ﬁfteen years earlier. The relatively gentle warmth of the Mediterranean spring would no doubt have been a pleasant experience for the Orkney lads who were used to cooler climes. Once through the canal, though, they would have had to face the ﬁerce, unrelenting heat of the Red Sea. The temperature in their cramped, uncomfortable quarters would have forced many of the steerage passengers to spend most of their time on deck. Perhaps the sleep that was denied David in the stiﬂing conditions below decks at night overcame him while he was basking on deck during the day. Unaware of the dangers of sunstroke, especially for someone unacclimatized to tropical heat, he could have remained under these scorching rays until irreparable damage had been done. In a case of sunstroke the body temperature can rise to dangerous levels and this is coupled with severe dehydration. Unless these conditions are quickly and expertly dealt with, death will soon follow. For David, death came on 6th May, only twenty days after leaving London. The victim’s most obvious symptom, delirium, apparently led to the cause of death being given in the ship’s records as “brain fever”. This description is an indication that there was not a doctor on board.
A report of David’s death from sunstroke came ﬁrst to his uncle, Hugh Sinclair of Swandale who had the task of breaking the tragic news to the lad’s mother who was working out in one of Fa’doon’s ﬁelds at the time. Letters that Elizabeth wrote to her aunt in Melbourne tell us that David’s mother collapsed on hearing the news and had to be carried back to the house. Christina was so distraught that she had to be brought home from Scockness in a cart.
Christina’s son, Jeemie Grieve, is the present owner of Fa’doon and spends an extended summer there every year. Now in his eighty-seventh year, he sees to it that the dwellinghouse as well as the outhouses at Fa’doon, all of which have ﬂagstone roofs, are kept in good repair, an act of preservation that is its own reward, and a joy to see.
[Article reproduced by kind permission of the editors of The Orkney View – issue No 47, April/May 1993]
During the 19th Century in Orkney press gangs were used to search for and provide men to join the ship’s crews of his Majesty’s Royal Navy. The gangs were hated and feared as much as the excise men and there are numerous tales from all over the county of how they were duped and how many men managed to get away from them by using particular hiding places.
Grithin on Rousay, where the above photos were taken, is the name of a boulder-strewn bay at the angle of the coast between the cliffs on the north-west of Saviskaill Head and those behind the old houses of Skatequoy, Stennisgorn and Grudwick. At this inlet there is a very steep beach, composed of huge boulders rounded by the action of the pounding waves. Another feature in the dramatic rock formation here is ‘15 Man Cave’ where, in 1825, that number of Rousay men hid from a press gang for two weeks.
Another such place is the ‘Clivvie of Heshiber up by the Hills o’ Glifter’ – or the Clivvie Stane, above Peerie Water and on the north-western slopes of Blotchnie Fiold, beneath which the young men of Rousay would hide from the press gang. The photos above show the Clivvie Stane – and are courtesy of Jo Inkster.
In 2013 Robbie Firth of Langskaill, Rousay, then a pupil at Kirkwall Grammar School, won the Marjorie Linklater Writing Award, funded by the Orkney Heritage Society, for a piece of original writing. His story – entitled ‘Hide’ – tells of a Rousay father and his two sons’ encounter with a press gang.
Tam flung a dried peat to his father Jim who stacked it onto the pile on the cart. An owl sat cat-faced, presiding over their progress from a nearby post. The sun had shone brightly all day and the peats were perfect for lifting. Jim’s humour had been good and barely a cross word had passed between father and son all day.
Tam’s younger brother Jock came spraggling over the heather like a panicked colt, before collapsing to his knees in front of them, furiously gasping air. The pair were unnerved by his startled appearance and when he had filled his lungs he began to tell them his important news.
“Fither they hiv done hid again, Robbo and Billo o’ Langskaill hiv bin te’en fae Gairsay! Oot o’ the derk they came, the only warning wis the light o’ storm tillies walking up the green o’ each hoose. Then in they went makin a muckle mess, grabbing fur the men o’ the hoose, dragging them oot doon tae the boats and away.”
Poor Jock was so overcome he collapsed in a heap.
“Aye they hiv been worried that the dammed Press Gangs wid come fur the men,” replied the boy’s father.
Tam stood shaking with his fists clenched at his sides. “Bit fither we canna jist lay doon and tak it! We mist pit up a fight, tak back the men or the ferms will’na manage.” He was angry and frightened too. What if the gangs came for them? How would his mother and sister manage?
“Na beuy, we canna fight back, thur The Kings men. We can only hide fae the beasts and pray they dinnae come fur us,” explained Jim
“Bit Fither…,” argued Tam.
“Na Tam! That’s an end o’ it, come let’s go and brack the news tae yur mither an’ Maggie.” Jim grabbed his cap and with a grim look he led the two solemn looking boys off the peat hill.
The Mainland family sat limply around the archaic wooden table. Not a word was spoken of what had happened on the island of Gairsay. Muriel set out the meal of salt fish and tatties onto the table in no unusual manner. A sinister mood floated over the table mingling with the hot steam rising from the dinner. Jock, too young to understand the enormity of the situation, danced hyperactively on his chair, rabbiting away about the voles he had caught in the sheep park.
The noise of the door sneck awoke the diners and Maggie flew through the low doorway. The two brothers instantly leapt up to ask Maggie what the fuss was about. Tam had a feeling he knew already.
“Mags wit is thoo fluster fur? Has thoo seen a ghoul?”
“Hid’s the lights, they are coming ower the water noo, tens o them. You mist run fur the hidie hole noo! You mist run!” She blurted out, choking on her sobs and grabbing Tam by his shirt.
Tam looked across at his Father and he knew what Jim was going to say but Tam had a sudden overpowering anger towards these men coming for him and his family. He wanted to stay and fight, as Tam opened his mouth to protest he felt his Mother’s hand on his sleeve. It was her small, frail, frightened face begging him to run that made him hold his silence on the matter.
“Fither we mist run fur the hills noo,” Tam and Jock both chanted simultaneously.
“Had still boys, an tak supplies. We mist go queek and quiet. Mags, go git the supply bags fae the loft,” steadily replied Jim.
Maggie dashed up to the loft like a ferret, she went straight to the spot where the hidden supplies lay. Slowly stepping down the wooden ladder, pausing for a moment to steady her balance she walked over to the table placing two big bundles of cloth down. Jim picked up the bundles placing them into the arms of each of his sons. The eerie silence put everyone on edge and a knowing looked past between them. Jim then kissed his wife and daughter and nodded to the door. All three departed out of the warmly lit croft and stepped out into the face of cold endless gloom, the full faced moon tipping above the edge of the hill.
Jim gave precise orders to his sons: “Boys we mist run noo, run fur the Clivvie of Heshiber up by the Hills o’ Glifter. Dinna stop running ‘til you get tae the Clivvie. Wance you get there yur no tae leave til yur Mither comes and tells us the besterds hiv geen.”
Both boys replied with a knowing nod. They all disappeared into the darkness, fleeing from the evil that spread over the fields below. Over the crisp sharp heather and over glistening burns they ran in silence. None of them slowed, the blood and adrenaline pulsed through their bodies. A sharp glance back and they could see the singular lights dotted along the peat road they had just crossed. As all three reached the tip of the hill they spotted a huge mass of sparkling waves made by the moon cutting through the clouds and dancing off the loch. They were near to the hide now and Jim paused for a moment to study the dark land below.
“See there lads, you can see the Clivvie Stane casting a small shadow on the heather in front. Run fur there noo, queek noo, queeker than afore,” Jim commanded the boys.
On they ran with determination, since their lives depended on it, the owl swooping silently above them. The ground before them grew deeper with heather which led Jock to trip more than a few times – once completely disappearing into the deep trenches. All the men arrived at the hide and one by one they slid through the tiny entrance into a deep, dark hole under the giant stone.
Not a light flickered across the hill, not a single sound could be heard. It was the silence that would keep them safe unless the devils of King and Country fell in their cave by mistake. This damp, dark hole was the best nest for keeping safe from the probing eye of the Press Gangs when they begun to hunt. Tam listened for voices but dared not to look.
Suddenly he heard the muffled voices of men coming near. He looked cautiously through the break in the overgrowth. All he could make out were five burning torches moving erratically down the hill. He frowned. Tam knew it was possible to tramp over the very stone he hid under and not be any the wiser that they were there, but only if they held their pact of silence.
As he watched, the lights crept nearer with every minute. The men lay packed in a sphere of fright and panic but Tam held his calm.
The torches disappeared only for a snap shot in time, then they burst over the mound right before the great stone. Tam could not make out the faces in the darkness of the night. The torches cut in two going either side of the stone and two planted right on the top of their fortress. Tam thought he heard a whisper in the wind saying his name but it was cut short by a scrabbling at the built up door.
A dirty hand clawed through the narrow entrance of their sanctuary silhouetted by a bright light. The captors shrank back in fear. Silence followed.
Across the sparkling loch the cat-faced owl rose effortlessly from the heather with a tiny vole clasped tightly in its talons. Soaring over the Clivvie Stane it returned to its post by the peat bank.
Robbie would like to express his thanks to KGS Principal Teacher English Simon Hall, and his English teacher Ann McTaggart who helped with the early drafts and correcting and also suggesting he submitted the story for the competition.
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.
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.
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]
Tommy Gibson of Rousay writes of boats and men lost in his area over the years.
[Taken from the pages of issue No.83 of The Orkney View published in 1999, and reproduced with kind permission of the magazine’s editors and the author, who also supplied the photos]
The parish of Rousay, Egilshay and Wyre is not renowned for its shipwrecks, unlike for example, Hoy, Sanday, Westray or Stronsay. In the nineteenth century fishing was a main industry, with a lot of men making a living from the sea. Despite this, the number of casualties was remarkably low. There were more losses among the non-fishing population. In common with other islands, however, there are graves along the shoreline from long ago, particularly on the Holm of Scockness and on Rousay at The North Sand, and on the land of Faraclett at Hunber and the Clett.
The first story is of a body of a man which came ashore in the North Sand. He was supposed to have been a cattle dealer on his way to Westray. His body was found by one of the crofters who had land on the farm of Faraclett. Another story I heard about was of a large ship partly laden with dried tea-leaves, which went ashore in the Leean. The people of Wasbister and Quandale did not know what to do with the cargo. They tried to feed it to the cattle, with no success. They even tried to make porridge out of the tea and they also tried to smoke it. In the end they used the tea for bedding for the cattle and pigs!
Another ship, the Atlantis, ran aground on the point of Grory on the Holm of Scockness, and the tide took her to below Finyo where she sank. She was about 60ft of keel, with a general cargo, mainly crockery. The next story concerns a Westray skiff laden with meal from the Sourin Mill on route back home to Westray. They were sailing past Axnigoe, Scockness, and missed a tack and the boat ran aground on the sloping rocks of the Clett. The boat filled with water and two or three men were drowned. No written record of any of these incidents was found.
Fishing for ‘kuithes’ and ‘sillocks’ from the Rocks or Craigs in Rousay was a needy and pleasurable task on a fine summer night. There are lots of ‘fishing places’ or points around the coast. One is Hunber, which lies east of the head of Faraclett, with a strong tide running past. At Hunber is a place called ‘Koldeross’, a dangerous ledge over deep water, where sometimes due to lack of space, people had to fish. John Gibson, of Broland, fell into the sea from this ledge. The men around him cast their ‘waands’ at him, and caught him on the collar with their ‘ﬂees’ and saved him.
A stone in the Westside Churchyard reads; “Here lies the body of James Sinclair, Newhouse, husband of Madie Hourston, who was drowned on the reef of Skebray (Scabra) on the 20th Dec. 1825 aged 41”. Also in the boat were two Mainland boys from Tratland, Alexander and his brother whose name is not known.
In the Scockness Kirkyard there is a headstone to John Gibson of Pow, a Sourin fisherman and crofter of 6 acres who died in his boat on the 1st October 1854, possibly of a heart attack. His son, James, would not set foot in a boat after his father’s death.
In 1861 four Wyre men were tragically lost off the point of Ha’breck. This followed a visit to the registrar and the Off Licence in Rousay about the wedding of Annie Sabiston, a sister of the men who drowned, due to the upsetting of an open boat. They were John Sabiston, 32, farmer of Ha’Breck, Alexander Sabiston, 25, seaman in the merchant navy, James Baikie, 26, shoemaker, (the groom) and Hugh Craigie, 41, farmer married to Mary Louttit. There is in the Wyre Kirkyard a headstone with the inscription “Erected in memory of John Sabiston who was drowned Jan. 2nd 1861 aged 32 years. Also his son Alexander who died 19th Dec.1882 aged 23 years, together with his wife Mary Corsie who died at Paplay House, Eday, 5th May 1908 aged 86 years”. The same year Robert Inkster aged 8 of Swartifield fell over the Blue Goes and was killed. His body came ashore on Eday and was buried there. On the 26th August 1875 Robert Gibson of Langskaill, aged 36, and his son David, aged 8, were drowned in an open boat. This was due to a heavy land sea below Saviskaill when they came ashore. On the 19th January 1877 four were lost off the Isle of Eynhallow; William Rendall, 54, John Corrigall, 44, David Hourston, 3 and John Brown, 51. Nothing is known of this accident, nor why a three year old child was on the boat in the middle of winter. In another accident Thomas Shearer aged 15 was drowned while bathing in the sea near Saviskaill on the 4th August 1878.
On a headstone in the Wasbister kirkyard we read “In loving Memory of Hugh Inkster, of Brittany, drowned in Westray Firth on the 14th May 1879 aged 29 years.” It is thought that the boom hit him and he was knocked overboard.
Alan Gibson, a ploughman of Scockness, found a body at the North Sand on the 20th June 1882. In the Scockness Kirkyard a headstone bears this inscription, “In loving memory o f Alexander Henderson who lost his life accidentally by falling off the cliffs at the Blue Goes, May 14th 1883 aged 15.” The local story of this incident is that two lads on a trip from Kirkwall were walking to Wasbister and came to the steep braes at the back of Swandale where they both took to rolling down to the shore. One fortunately came to a standstill; the other went over the cliffs. The other boy took to running down the Sourin valley towards Hurtiso. He would stop and shout the boy’s name, run on and stop again, and continued shouting. Nothing more is known of this incident.
An extract from The Orcadian, March 22 1884, tells of another disaster. “A small yawl boat, between 11 and 12 o’clock on Tuesday morning, manned by 2 men left Westness for the purpose of procuring medicine from the doctor in Evie. The weather rough, ﬂood tide, and a nasty sea. The crew comprised of two men, William Louttit and John Kirkness. When about half a mile from the shore, the boat was seen to ship a sea on the weather bow, which threw the bow off, when it encountered a heavy sea on the weather quarter, and immediately went down with both the men, who were lost. A boat put off from Rousay, but was too late to render any assistance. About one hour later the unfortunate boat was driven ashore, but with no trace of the men. The sad loss cast a gloom over the Island.” William Louttit, 31, a fisherman, The Manse, Wasbister, was married to Margaret Gibson, and had three children. John Kirkness, 27, mason, Grain, Wasbister, was married to Isabella Mainland, Gorehouse, and had two children. The bodies of the two men were never found. William’s son William, aged eighteen months, was ill at the time with appendicitis. He died at Broland aged 12.
On the 2nd December 1890 Hamo Gregerson, of Christiansund, Norway, aged 21, was swept overboard from the ship Iolle. He was the second Mate. His body was not recovered.
In a sad accident in Eynhallow Sound on Wednesday 11th October 1893 six lives were lost. James Sinclair, aged 75, a boatman, of Newhouse (his father was drowned in 1825, see above), John Reid, aged 56 from Tratland, Lydia Gibson, (Craigie) aged 35 from Turbitail, later Lochend, Stenness and her family David 9, Maggie Jessie 6, and Mary Ann 4 were all drowned. The crew is buried in the Westside Kirkyard. Lydia is in the Wasbister Kirkyard, and the children are in Stenness. Part of a report in The Orcadian dated Saturday 14th October 1893 runs; “Later information regarding the accident is to the effect that when the ill-fated boat left Evie on Wednesday, it was close reefed. All went well while it was under lee of the land, but immediately it rounded Aikerness Point it was struck by a squall and was upset. The two boatmen – Reid and Sinclair – were seen clinging to the boat for a minute or two, but it partly righted itself throwing them in the water and they were never seen again. A small boat manned by Wm. Wood, Wads, and John Mowat, Woodwick, Evie, was at that moment within 150 yards of the scene of the accident, but owing to the terrific gale, then blowing, had great difficulty in getting to the place, and by that time, men, woman and children had disappeared. A boat manned by David Miller, Merchant and Magnus Mowat, Evie, also put out from the shore, but could get no trace of the unfortunate people who were on board the mail boat. The boat was seen to turn several times over, and was carried away past Rousay towards the Atlantic”. This was the worst boating disaster in the parish.
During a storm on Sunday the 5th of January 1905 the steam trawler Excelsior, with Captain Martin of Hull, ran aground on the rocks at the Graand, Egilshay. She was severely damaged and was making water. During the night the crew were taken off and landed in Egilshay. The steam trawler Edward Roberts came up during the afternoon and remained in the neighbourhood till Monday afternoon, when all hope of getting the Excelsior off, by ordinary means, was abandoned. She then took the Excelsior’s crew to Kirkwall. It is interesting to note that the night the crew were rescued from the Excelsior was too stormy to launch a boat at Vaardy, Egilshay, the usual place to land and take off, which meant that a band of Egilshay men dragged a skiff on dry land from Vaardy to the Graand, being a mile and a half, had it been a straight road. The only light they had to keep them was an old fashioned lantern, with a thin cloth around it, to save it being blown out by the storm. Mr George Seator of Onzibust, the nearest farm to the Graand, stood in the boat and lifted members of the crew down into the boat, so saving them all. He took them to his house where they had food and rest till Monday, when the Edward Roberts took them to Kirkwall. Many of George Seator’s descendants are around Orkney today. They have good reason to be proud of him and the others who took part in this daring rescue. The boiler from the Excelsior can still be seen at low water on the Graand ninety-four years later.
John Logie of Grindlesbreck, a cattle dealer, died aboard the MV Fawn at the Rousay pier on the 11th February 1906. In Egilshay Sound, on the 3rd of April 1907, a boat left the Rousay pier for Egilshay with David Flaws aged 69 of Cott, Egilshay and John Inkster, a servant man, with some plough irons. About 1.15 pm. in a strong S.E. wind off the point of Avelshay, the sea struck her and threw her over the two men in the sea. This was seen from Egilshay. James Seatter and James Craigie made quickly to the scene and found John Inkster clinging to an oar. They quickly rescued him for he was in a bad way and they feared for his safety. David Flaws and the boat had disappeared. His body was never found. A yacht The Blue Dragon owned by Mr. C. Lynam, an Oxford Don, came and anchored in Wyre Sound off the Leys. That night a strong wind from the west blew her ashore below Russness. The four of a crew were unhurt and there was no damage to the boat. Two stayed at Russness and the other two stayed at The Bu. This happened on a Tuesday morning and by Saturday morning she was reﬂoated on the high tide.
That same year on the 20th November, Robert Kemp, a farmer and cattle dealer from Langskaill, Gairsay was at a farm sale at Saviskaill, Rousay. In the evening he was in a hurry to get over to Egilshay to buy some cattle and borrowed a boat from Robert Seatter, Banks, Sourin. The weather was good with a light breeze on the Rousay side and it was good moon light. It is not known how the boat foundered. It was most likely to have been on Oullis (pronounced Oo—lis), a skerry between the Holm of Scockness and the Egilshay pier. A walking stick belonging to Mr. Kemp and a pair of oars from the boat were found on the Holm of Scockness. Mr. Kemp’s body was never found, the boat came ashore in Sanday. The boat was burned on the Hill of Kingerly in the 1937 Coronation bonfire.
The SS Actif foundered somewhere to the East of Stronsay in 1915. Two bodies came ashore in Rousay and they are buried in the Glebe Kirkyard. An inscription on headstones reads; “In Loving memory of James Scott Jamison, who drowned through the Foundering of the SS Actif on the 25th December 1915 aged 37. Son of Andrew Jamison, Longhill, Shetland”. The other headstone reads; “Erected in loving memory of our dear Father Peter B. Brymer, Engineer, SS Actif who was drowned on the 25th Dec.1915.” The one body came in near the Kirkyard, the other was found by Edith Gibson on the sloped rocks below Avelshay. It is not known if the date is of the foundering, or the find, or the burial. On the 11th August 1920 Robert Scott, a seaman of Hurtiso was drowned aged 39.This was not in the parish. The Phyllis Bellman, an Aberdeen trawler ran aground on the point of Ridden on Kili Holm. She was going north, out to the fishing grounds. There were no casualties, and she was safely towed off. In the following years up to 1936 four trawlers went aground on Kili Holm. The Vest Havit, a Norwegian, went on the point of Pitten on the Northwest corner and sank. The Birkhall went on the point of Ridden, the Northeast corner. The Lord Wymburn went on below the Quoy and the Marina hit the skerry, Marlow and was damaged. She was towed off but the tide took her and she ended up on the Haas. There were no casualties. In the Brinian Kirkyard there are six headstones for seamen who came ashore in the Second World War. Only one name, that of “A. Rasmanus, a sailor, SS Chelsea, 30. 8. 1940, aged 33” is on the headstone. Sunday the 24th of May 1953 saw the Aberdeen trawler Unitia aground on Oullis, the skerry south of the Holm of Scockness. Again there were no casualties and the SS Earl Sigurd towed her off on Sunday the 8th of June. The people of the parish went out to the trawler with baking, milk and eggs and were given lots of fish, which were salted down. In these days the fish were large and good. Many a good dinner was had. In the early 60’s William Darling, an art teacher and keen amateur photographer, was lost over the cliffs at the back of Purse, at Hellia Spur, while taking photographs. His body alas was never found.
These are most of the tragedies that have occurred around the waters of the parish. Finally it is also interesting to note that I have only found one fatality in the farming community and none on the roads, in spite of many accidents and the many, many more narrow escapes ……….