Hudson’s Bay Company

John Mowat, born  c.1791, originally lived at Breckan but later at Innister, in Wasbister, Rousay. He married his second wife, Katherine Inkster [b. 1785], in 1814. They had six children: Christian was born in June 1815; Thomas in December 1816; Elizabeth in June 1820; Mary in September 1822; Hugh in December 1828; and Isabella in November 1830.

Hugh was 22 years of age when he signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company in December 1850 and he sailed from Stromness the following year bound for the York Factory in Manitoba. From there he crossed Canada and was employed as a labourer at Fort Vancouver, a fur trading outpost and supply depot along the Columbia River that served as the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Columbia Department, located in the Oregon Country. Hugh worked there from I852 to 1854, then was listed as a steward at the Vancouver depot from 1854 to 1860.

The following excerpt is reprinted with permission of the Publisher from Undelivered Letters to Hudson’s Bay Company Men on the Northwest Coast of America, 1830-57 by Judith Beattie and Helen Buss © University of British Columbia Press 2003. All rights reserved by the Publisher.


The undelivered letters kept so carefully by the Hudson’s Bay Company do not include very many addressed to regular employees of the continental fur trade. As these men were usually long-term employees, who rarely deserted to find other work or left in the middle of their contracts, their whereabouts were not often in doubt and their personal mail usually reached them. Letters to them from Europe normally arrived in North America – as did the men themselves – across the north Atlantic Ocean through Hudson Bay to York Factory rather than by the south Atlantic route around Cape Horn to the Pacific Ocean. Columbia Department postings that required travel with the fur brigades by way of the river routes and mountain passes, however, effectively separated the men from the east by distance and time, and the chance of mail not reaching them was greater.

The letters to these men show concerns similar to those in many other undelivered letters. In a few cases, because of the longer career spans of the Company men, we have more information about their lives and are able of offer more detailed narratives, such as the tale of Chief Factor John Tod and his several wives. As Orkneymen are as plentiful in this sample as they were in the regular ranks of the Company’s employees, we have been able to access the excellent records of these island people to offer information on their lives after they left the Company service.

88 HUGH MOUAT:  Your Mother is but tendar and very lonsom for yow always and hopes that yow will come home at the eand of your contrake if the lord spares yow to serv the time

Hugh Mouat joined the Company in December 1850, coming out on the annual ship to York Factory in the fall of 1851 as a labourer and travelling overland to work at Fort Vancouver. Letters were sent from home at the time of the year when Scots celebrate Hogmanay and try to be the first visitor in neighbouring homes. Such letters – like the one below – were filled with the many activities of the extended kin and friendship groups of Orkney. Hugh’s friend, John Inkster, was most concerned with keeping him up to date on the marriageable women.

Mr Hugh Mouat, Fort Vancouver Or else where, Columbia, Care of Secretary of the Honourable Hudson’s Bay Company

December 31 1851

Dear brother I take the plasant opurtunity of writing you this few lines to let you know that we are all in good health at prasant thank god for his mercies hoping and earnestly wishing this will find you the same[.] your uncle of e[y]nhallow and his wife and famely is well as yet we should be thankful for his mercies one and all of us[.] James Inkster my brother went of[f ] last march he went of to shields and engaged their with a baroque bound for quebec[.] he was a voyage their and back to shields again and then he left the ship[.] he was about a week their engaged with a brig going up the mediterranean a 6 month voyage[.] your mother and sisters is all well and Cirstinu is maried this winter and we have all got a weding at inisgar [Innister?][.] there was not many people at it all the people of cogar [Koogrew?] Jane Flett and James Craigie of hatherhall [Heatherhall] your aunt of grain John Inkster and peter from that was all from e[y]nhallow[.] this winter there is ben alterations is in e[y]nhallow[.] this winter there is ben a fever en it is been in william mainlands house[.] Jennet mainland left this world on sabbath night and william about 2 weeks after and it is been in william louttits house and harrjut is left this this [repetition] world so we have great reason to be very thantful that we are still spared a little longer in this sinful world[.] that should be a warning to one and all of us how uncertain our time is here[.] John mowat your brother is still unmarried yet[.] he is finely well in health[.] James Inkster wife and family is in good health at preasant thank god for it[.] John Inkster of pliverhall [Ploverhall] is home this winter[.] young John Inkster of e[y]nhallow was at caithness all the summer at the herring fishing and I had 3£ of wages[.] david and william mainland was to[o] and I was in skeal [Skaill] in sanwick [Sandwick] all the harvest i had 30 s[hillings] of mony for the harvest and i have been in gorn this two winters and Peter is in whis[.] Margaret Craigie is still in gorn and she is finely well her mother and all her sisters thy all put their kind compliments to you[.] margaret craigie of knarston she is not married yet[.] she put her compliments to the[e][.] she has no sweethart now atal simpson is still unmaried yet but he is not going to her at all – John Cl[o]uston girl is always coming To us she was used to do[.] magnus and bettsey and their mother is all well and magnus was at the herrin .shing in burra[y][.] hugh craigie of Death [Deith] and isabella and mary and John is all well at preasant[.] John Inkster and Jane craigie of gorn is both in good health[.] James craigie of blackhamers [Blackhamar] and barbara craigie of torbittail [Turbitail] is bucked [booked] but not married[.] all her sisters is married but Jane elin an of seventyfiver isabella a fine young lad in kirkwall – magnus cl[o]uston and John Inkster goes from the house every night to the girls[.] a fine lightsome winter in wesbyster [Wasbister][.] there is no fis[h] for John Cl[o]uston and hugh mowat[.] If you see william craagie [Craigie] margaret’s brother you will tell him to send a letter for it is 2 years since they received one from him[.] John craigie of hillion [Hullion] is married with sarah sinclair[.] John sinclair of news [Newhouse?] is built a new house but he is not married[.] George Leonard and margaret clouston is finely well and they have got another daughter[.] James Leonard is home this winter[.] cecelia is finely well[.] Margaret gibson flintersby is married this winter with James stenston a very grand wedding all the pecks of the island[.] you will send home all the news you ave if you got safe to calombia[.] I Have no more to say at preasant what remains your dear friend John Inkster

My Direction is
Mr John Inkster
E[y]nhallow to the care of Mr Hug [crossed out]
Mr Hugh Charles Evie
By kirkwall

Inkster was informative on whether female acquaintances were booked but not yet married, meaning that their intended fiancés had booked or arranged with a minister to have the banns of their marriage proclaimed in church. The “booking night” was an important one, because in an era before engagements it was the first indication that a marriage would take place.

The fact that John Inkster’s brother, James, had within the previous year sailed to both Quebec and the Mediterranean, indicates the wide seafaring experience of the Orkneymen. They voyaged around the world but still liked to keep in touch with the doings of the folks back home. Hugh’s brother, John, also wrote to wish him well on New Year’s Day.

Mr Hugh Mouat, Fort Vancouver, Or else where, Columbia, care of Secretary of the Honourable Hudson Bay Company, London

Instar [Innister] Rousay Janury the 1 1852

Dear and loving brother I Embrace this oppurinntunity to let you know that we are all well at presant thanks be to god for it[.] Earistly woshing that this few lins yallaghe [crossed out] find yow in the same[.] we recived your wallcome latter the 23 october and wase glade to har that you ware wall[.] we recived your 2 latters and the bill that yow sent bout the Mony is not dra[w]n yet[.] your sister cirsty is got Married this wonter to man his name is william lutted [Loutit] and thy stop in firt[h] in chambar at preesant[.] he blong to rendal[l] and James simson and Markret gibson flintury is Married and black hammery [Blackhamar] barbery cray [Barbara Crey] is Married[.] this wonter we hade very good harren fishing and fine crop and it bene a fine wontar what is past[.] I have no pertlager News at presant but that we are all on the usualy way as when yow lefte us and the people tow send thir cind love to yow and Margret corger sisey vakrey send thir cind love to yow[.] so loving brother your sistars an all the famely of our others house send thire kind love to yow wishes yow well and I ame gone to stope till yow come home and get shire of my widden yet[.] cirsty widden was at Instar [Innister] 20 day before I rite yow this latter a fine littele Markes.
So dear and loving bother your sistar Elisa [&] brother send thir cind love to yow and hopes that yow will sike the lard ware ever yow gow as he is to be found in all place[.] rembar ashes [Zacchaeus] when he was found clim up the sishomery [sycamore] tree sicking [seeking] Jasus and hopes that yow will Make the rote [root] of a tre your closet[.] dear brother my earnes prayer is for yow and I hope yow would pray for me so that if we niver Mate on earth we Miht all Mite at our father right hand[.] so bloveing brother I am gone to klose this latter now with a few wards[.] your Mother is but tendar and very lonsom for yow alway and hopes that yow will come home at the eand of your contrake if the lord spares yow to serv the time
So loving brother yow will rembar your Mother And brother and sistars
Til dith

John Mowat


After being promoted to steward at the Vancouver depot in 1854, Hugh Mouat was still at Fort Vancouver receiving wages in 1860, far from his “tendar and very lonsom” mother.


Stranger on the Shore

Nicol Mainland was the son of James Mainland and Christian Louttit of Cotafea and he was born on June 9th 1800. In 1830 he married Margaret Louttit, daughter of William Louttit and Isabella Craigie of Faraclett. She was the twin of Janet and they were born on January 19th 1803. Between 1831 and 1846 Nicol and Margaret raised a family of seven children.

The following tale of an incident involving Nicol, which occurred here in Rousay many years ago, was written by Robert Craigie Marwick. My thanks to the editors of The Orkney View, Alastair and Anne Cormack, for allowing its reproduction.


It was close and airless in the box bed and old Nicol could not get over to sleep. From time to time, Maggie nudged him and muttered sleepily about lying still. He knew it was not just the warmth of the night that was keeping him awake; he could not stop thinking about the events of the day that was now dying in the western sky.

The day had started uneventfully enough. While his son had gone off to the hill for another load of peats, Nicol busied himself building up the stack with the last load brought home the previous day. It was a warm, sunny day, warm enough for him to shed his heavy jacket. The sun felt good on his old bones as he piled up the peats. In the afternoon he harnessed the old mare and yoked her to the scuffler. It was a good day for dealing with the weeds in the neep field down by the shore. The old mare’s slow and steady pace would suit him fine on such a warm day.

He had taken no more than two or three wups with the scuffler when he spotted the stranger coming along the shore. By the time Nicol turned towards the shore again, the man was standing on the end rig waiting for him.

“It’s a grand day,” said the stranger as Nicol reached him. Nicol turned the mare into the next drill before answering.

“Aye, hid’s ower weel,” he replied, at the same time pulling his pipe and a stump of black twist from his pocket.

“Here, have some of mine,” insisted the stranger, offering Nicol a full pouch. The old man declined politely and began searching for his knife with which to cut up his small bit of twist.

“I see you haven’t much left so try a fill of mine. It’s good stuff. I’m sure you’ll like it.” He again held out the pouch. Nicol took his first good look at the stranger. His shiny skipped cap, his clean-cut appearance, and clear, blue eyes showed him to be a man of the sea. Nicol liked the look of him.

“Hid’s guid o’ thee,” said the old man. “Mibbe I’ll hae a fill right enoff,” and took the pouch. When his pipe was filled and going well, Nicol nodded appreciatively to the stranger and turned again to his work. He would have liked to know who the stranger was but considered it would be an impertinence to ask straight out. The man would tell him in his own good time, he reckoned.

As Nicol prepared to set off up the drill, the stranger asked if he might walk with him for a little while. “Fine that,” replied the old man. Up and down, up and down the drills they trudged, with the stranger saying very little apart from an occasional remark on how well the crops were looking and a question on whether Nicol had anyone to help him with the work on the farm. After a couple of hours the stranger said he would need to be on his way and held out his hand. “I’m glad to have met you,” he said as he grasped Nicol’s hand firmly in both of his.

“Hid’s been lightsome right enoff,” Nicol was surprised to find himself saying, being well aware that very few words had passed between them as they walked up and down behind the scuffler. Still, he had enjoyed the younger man’s quiet company.

“Take care of yourself,” said the stranger. Then he smiled and turned towards the shore. The old man, with a puzzled expression, watched him go. Just a friendly smile, he told himself, and yet……A hundred yards away the stranger turned and waved. Nicol raised his hand, and then, turning to the task in hand, clicked his tongue and the old mare moved off.

That evening after tea, Nicol took his stick and set off on the short walk across the fields for his usual midweek visit to the shop at Hullion. His neighbour, Jeems o’ News, who ferried mails and passengers across Evie Sound each day, was already there chatting to the shop-keeper. The latter, when he saw old Nicol coming in, reached beneath the counter.

“I daresay this is whit thoo’re efter,” he said as he handed Nicol an ounce of black twist. Nicol paid for the tobacco and proceeded to fill his pipe.

“Thoo wid be plaised tae see thee viseetor the day, Nicol,” remarked Jeems. “I saa him gaan ap and doon the neep field wae thee a long while this efterneun.”  Nicol made no reply until his pipe was going well.

“Hid wis ower weel, bit best kens wha hid wis.”

“Did thoo no ken wha hid wis?” asked Jeems in surprise, and when he saw the blank look on his old friend’s face he realised he would have to explain matters carefully.

“I took thee viseetor ower fae Evie and I kent wha hid wis when he asked me whar thoo lived. He’s the spittan image o’ his uncle, Jock Harrold, that I worked wae for a term in Egilsay afore he set aff for Australia.”

“Harrold, did thoo say? Wis that……wis that Isabel’s boy? Wis that wha hid wis?” asked Nicol, incredulously.

“Aye, Nicol, that’s wha hid wis. Isabel Harrold’s boy. Thee son, Jeemie.”

Jeemie, thought Nicol. The bairn Isabel Harrold had borne him. It must be fifty year, aye, maybe one or two more. Isabel Harrold. My, what a bonny lass she had been with that head of red hair and that smile of hers. The very same smile, he now realised, as he had seen that afternoon.

In response to Nicol’s urgent questioning, Jeems o’ News had told him about taking Jeemie back to Evie in the late afternoon and when last seen he had been making for Aikerness. It took a little persuasion for Jeems to agree to cross the Sound with Nicol that evening in the faint hope of catching up on Jeemie before he got too far. At Aikerness they were told he had set off for Kirkwall right away on the hired bike on which he had arrived, saying he planned to catch the six o’clock steamer for Leith. Wearily they trudged back to the shore and, without a word being spoken, set sail for home.

Now, in the silence of the night, Nicol’s thoughts took him back fifty years to that time when he had fee’d at Faraclett and had first met Isabel Harrold. She had lived with her mother on the little croft of Peeno up by the Suso Burn. Fondly, he recalled the joys of that summer and the sweet sorrow of parting when he left in the spring for a season at the whaling in the Davis Straits. It was only when he returned that he heard about the bairn born during his absence, and the death of Isabel’s mother shortly afterwards. He had listened, with ever increasing anger, to an account of Isabel being summoned to appear before the kirk session to be given a tongue lashing by the minister. An elder who had been present had later told Nicol it was the most vicious he had ever heard. Isabel had not been there to tell him anything of these events for she and the bairn had left the island after her searing kirk session ordeal, and before his return. Gone to Leith, some claimed, where she was said to have relatives. She had never returned to the island, but must have told the boy about his parentage and he had returned. Nicol smiled contentedly in the dark.

After another session at the whaling, Nicol had fee’d again at Faraclett, and a year later had married Maggie, a daughter of the house. She had been a good wife to him all these years, and he had no regrets, he told himself.

As the dawn of a new day dispelled the long darkness of the night, Nicol drifted over into a blissful sleep and into a dream in which a younger self frolicked with a smiling, red-headed lass on the summer banks of the Suso burn.


Court Proceedings – 1613


[Extracts concerning Rousay]

Vigesimo primo Januarii 1613

Tailyeour contra Flawis

The quhilk day George Traill in Westnes becam cautioner and souertie for Thomas Flawis in Wosbuster that he shall not molest nor trubbill James Tailyeour thair nor na utheris his majesteis lieges nor subjectis within the cuntrey of Orknay, bot that he sall observe and keip his majesteis peace with all and everie ane of thame under the pain of 1 li.; and the said Thomas actit him to warrand and releive his said cautioner of the premissis.

Flawis contra Tailyeour

The quhilk day Edward Alschunder in Rowsay becom cautioner and souertie for James Tailyeour in Wosbuster that he sall not molest nor trubbill Thomas Flawis thair nor na utheris his majesteis lieges within the cuntrey of Orknay, bot that he sall observe and keip his majesteis peace with all and everie ane of thame under the pain of 1 li.; and the said James actit him for releif of his said cautioner.

Edward Garsetter contra Henrie Alschunder

The quhilk day Henrie Alschunder in Langskaill in Rowsay, being accused for the hurting and wounding of Edward Garsetter in Sorwick upone the face with a wand upone the … day of Junii last wes, to the effusioun of his bluid, quha being personallie present denyet; thairfoir the judge referrit the mater to the knawledge of ane assyse of the persones following, viz –


William Irowing of Sabay, chancelar
William Sinclair of Grenwall
Edward Sinclair of Esinquoy
William Irowing, baillie of Schapinschay
William Beg in Horraldsgarth
Nicoll Sinclair in Kirkwall
Magnus Hardie thair
Thomas Louttit in St Olais parochin
Harie Spence in Skapa
William Chalmer in Kirkwall
William Brown in Orphair
Johne Gareoch in Paplay
William Corrigill in Harray
Walter Lachtane in Holme
Robert Cragie in Bruch in Sandwick

Quhilkis persones being chosen, suorne and admittit, past altogidder furt of court, ryplie advysit inenterit agane, fand and delyverit the said Henrie to have strukin the said Edward a blae straik on the face with a wand and nocht to have bled him, remitting the ryot to the judge, absolvis the said Henrie of the bluid and condemns him in an unlaw for the ryott; quhilk determinatioun the judge acceptit and decernit him in the sowme of  X li. money for the said ryot, quhilk the dempster gave for dome.

Wand – fishing rod
Dempster – court official who formally pronounced the sentence
Dome – judgement
Vigesimo primo – Twenty-first


Rousay Folk – 1975

There were two shops on the island at this time – Edith Gibson is behind the counter of hers at Hullion – while at the Pier shop, Steebly [Jim Craigie] has a laugh with his wife Mina, as she serves customers there. He was born above the stables at Trumland House, hence his nickname!

James Campbell Bruce Craigie – Jim o’ Deithe – born October 2nd 1895. Jim was a postman, firstly on Rousay and later in Sandwick where he lived at Ravenswood, Quoyloo. He is best-known for his fiddle music, having composed many, many tunes over the years. Tunes with a Rousay flavour such as Maggie Watson’s Farewell to Blackhammer, Netherbow, The Road to Hammer-Chunky, Whal’s Rost – the list is endless, and his music is still played and recorded today by a wealth of Orkney musicians.

Ingrid and Robert Mainland of Nears – note the shoes and socks! Ingrid graduated from Durham University with a BA Hons in Archaeology, later specialising in archaeozoology. Robert took over the farm at Nears from his father John, and is also a builder of very fine houses on the island.

Below are some photos of Mansie Flaws and his ferry boat Shalder, taken during my first visit to Rousay in 1975. Another vessel, the Osprey, was known as the Rousay Post Boat and Mansie and his sons ran this and the Shalder between Tingwall and Rousay. Another boat they used at the time was the Alert which is still in Rousay today. When Mansie retired son Ian purchased the Solan and carried on the run, until Orkney Ferries’ mv Eynhallow started regular crossings between the two piers – crewed by Ian and his sons, and since Ian’s retirement his nephew Callum Flaws took over as one of the skippers of the Eynhallow.

Mansie Flaws in wheelhouse-door of the Shalder, with John Inkster [left] eldest son of John (Jolk) and Dorothy Inkster (née Mainland) – and Frank Harris on the right, who lived at Yorville with his wife May. Frank was a member of the magic circle and once had a brush with the authorities who refused him permission to drive backwards, blindfolded, through the streets of Thurso! – The photo to the right shows the Rev Tom Johnston helping a bairn aboard – into the safe hands of Mansie.

I posted these photos of Mansie on the Orkney Past & Present Facebook page. David Spence allowed me to reproduce the following comment he made having seen the photos: “He is my grandfather, he retired to Kirkwall and was always turning wood into something, a very talented man with the lathe, he had the Alert up outside his house and restored it and among other things he made spinning wheels that were shipped all over the world to people he had met over the years while he ran the ferrys. A very talented fiddle player and would play the trumph to tourists on the boats too. He was a big man with a giant heart and a giant smile.”

Mabel and Bill Flaws of Hammerfield. In 1938 Bill, then 35 years old, married
Mabel Sinclair, the daughter of Thomas Sinclair and Mary Inkster of Banks,
Frotoft, who was christened Mary Isabel in 1910.

Mabel and Bill are pictured at their Hammerfield home, with faithful dog Spot.
Below is Hugh Grieve of Saviskaill, repairing a dyke on his land above Grithen.


Shipping Kye – 1975

A short series of photos I took in 1975 – Kye from Rousay and Wyre being
loaded onto the mv Orcadia, bound for the Auction Mart in Kirkwall.

Kye being loaded onto the Orcadia at Rousay pier – 1975.
Jimmy Marwick [Cogar] lends a hand to ship kye off the island
Harold Grieve [Saviskaill], and Pier Master Tommy Gibson [Brinola] (pulling); Davo Craigie [Bu]; Magnus Flaws [Castlehall]; Bryan Inkster [o’ the Cop].

Bryan o’ the Cop was working with Harold o’ Saviskaill at the time. They walked their kye to the pier, meeting up with Bruce and Hugh Mainland doing the same from Hurtiso, so they herded them all together. Bryan Inkster and his brothers John, Bob and Steven, were known as the “boys o’ the Cop”. The Cop is local for The Northern Cooperative Society. It was a movement which built stores throughout Scotland by self help. It started in Clumpy in the hill behind the School in Sourin and eventually the shop, stable, sheepy hoose and slaughter house was built at Craigerne. Bryan’s parents Jock and Dorothy ran it when he was young. The Cop eventually petered out and the Craigie sisters bought it and built the dwelling house Craigerne (get it?, Bryan says!). His parents bought it in the fifties.

Nigel Firth [Langskaill] and
Bill Flaws [Hammerfield]

Harold Grieve [Saviskaill]; Pier Master Tommy Gibson [Brinola]; Magnus Flaws [Castlehall]; Bryan Inkster [Cop]; Charlie Craigie, Rusness [foreground].
In the background: Tommy and Willie Inkster [Woo/Faroe]; Bill Flaws [Hammerfield]; Bryan Inkster [o’ the Cop]; Pier Master Tommy Gibson [Brinola]; Ian Flaws [Castlehall (Hawn)]; Davo Craigie [Bu]; Willie Delday [Onzibust]; Jim Johnston [Testaquoy].
Davo Craigie [Bu]; Pier Master Tommy Gibson [Brinola].
Last to be loaded onto the Orcadia……

A Day in Rousay – 1889



The Orkney Herald – 29 May 1889

If it be the case that Londoners knew less of London than the casual visitor, it is equally true that the Orcadian often has smaller acquaintance with his own isles than even the summer tourist. There are people of my acquaintance – Kirkwall born and bred – who have never been in Shapinsay, who have never seen the Old Man of Hoy or the Dwarfie Stone, and whose closest knowledge of the Standing Stones has been derived from the pictured guide-book. Need it be wondered at, therefore, that to many Rousay is a terra incognita? With feelings akin to shame I confess that till Friday last I was one of the untravelled number; now I have wiped off that reproach, and can soothly say that nowhere is there a fairer isle in the archipelago, and none more deserving of a visit.

Westness, with a view across to Eynhallow and Costa Head in the distance to the left, and Scabra Head far away to the right.

When the Orcadia steamed out of the bay on the morning of the Queen’s Birthday, laden with pleasure-seekers, it was indeed right royal weather. The winds for once in a time were hushed, and the sea lay sleeping under a canopy of tenderest blue, flecked with pearly white. As the good ship churned her way onwards, there opened out on either hand glimpses of sun-lit isle, almost ideal in their restful beauty, certainly defying description at my impractised hands. It is easy enough to heap adjective upon adjective in essaying to picture scenery; yet all the adjectives, all the Ruskinesque writing in the world, would fail in doing justice to Orkney’s peculiar charms. You may not rave of gorgeous colouring, or cloud-capped peaks, or many-hued woods, for these are for the most part non-existent; but if you be truly sensible of their subdued and subtle beauties, you will confess at once how inadequate mere words are to express your emotions. So when this wondrous panorama reveals itself we are most of us very quiet on board. The tranquil day seems to slide into the very soul. How different, to be sure, from an ordinary excursion party we are. We have no brass band on board wherewith to deafen meditative converse; none of the sights and sounds that deafen the holiday steamer here obtrude themselves. The blind fiddler, the concertina man, the masher, the half-maudlin maiden in pink dress and blue feathers, the furtive welsher – all  these  are  far  away. Only the presence of the policeman reminds us of stern realities, and whispers that we are but all human. That official himself keeps by us the whole day, watchful and sphinx-like, yet without once having occasion to bestow his attention on aught but the natural beauties of the scene.

Whis Ber and its Quern, between Fishing Geo and Midhowe.

It is in this quiet, sensible way, we approach Rousay, where we can already see many welcoming faces – a practical protest in advance against the slanderous suggestion of a passenger on board that hospitality is not a special trait in Rousay character. However,   when  you  are  going   on a  journey,  always  lay  on  supplies, no matter  who  your  host  may  be; for fifty things may happen to bring about a hitch. Thus being most of us armed against contingencies, our ill-conditioned friend had thus moralized aloud: – “It’s well you’re all provided, for there was a lady went to Rousay some time ago, and tried to get rest and shelter. Being a bit well-dressed like, the folk were na sure of her; and so she had to sleep under the park wall all night.” We had no sooner stepped ashore than we had practical proof of the contrary disposition on the part of the people. Houses on every hand opened to receive us; even strangers were admitted within the charmed circle; and when later in the day, after the pleasing pain of treading the long heather, the party returned, there were spoiling guid-wives who proffered a cup of tea to their own delightful sex. It was then I was reminded by one of our party of an incident that once and for all disposes of any doubt on the subject of Rousay hospitality. Being on the island once, he had slaked his honest thirst at a well, and a few weeks afterwards a Rousay acquaintance called upon him. She was not over-well pleased, and burst out, “You put me richt mad the other day, man. You took a drink out o’ wir well. Man! I wad have given your faither’s dog a drink o’ milk !”

How we spent the day I need hardly tell, because on every hand the island is brimful of everything that can delight the senses on such a day as we had. Suffice it to say, that some had the good fortune to explore the beauties of the mansion-houses on the place; others picnicked on the hill side; while the more young and adventurous made the circuit of the island. Despite age and infirmity, I was of the last-mentioned number, spending en route a restful hour on that fatal cliff which, six years ago, claimed one of a band of Kirkwall excursionists as its victim. It is indeed a wild  and  giddy  spot. We had had the incident related to us by one of the party, and just as he finished he led the way to the sheer descent with the words: –

“Come on, sir; here’s the place: stand still.
How fearful and dizzy ’tis, to cast one’s eyes so low.
The crows and choughs that  wing  the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles.
The fishermen that walk upon the beach,
Appear like mice; and you tall anchoring bark
Diminish’d to her cock; her cock, a buoy
Almost too small for sight; the murmuring surge,
That on the unnumber’d idle pebbles chafes,
Cannot be heard so high.   I’ll look no more;
Lest my brain turn, and the deficient sight
Topple down headlong.”

Saviskaill Bay, with the Leean rising to the right and the Head of Faraclett away to the left.

The blow-holes or Sinians of Cutclaws were also visited, but they were evidently not in working order. It may be of interest to state here that the late Laurence Oliphant describes a somewhat similar phenomenon near the hamlet of Summarin, in Palestine. He says: – “One of the fellahin, led me to the head of a valley, where he said there was a mysterious rock with a hole in it, where the roaring of a mighty river might be heard. The aperture was a crack in a table-rock of limestone, about three inches by two, its sides were worn smooth by listeners who had placed their ears upon it from time immemorial. On following the example of the thousands who had probably preceded me, I was saluted by a strong draught of air, which rushed upwards from unknown depths, and heard to my surprise the mighty roaring sound that had given the rock its mystical reputation; but I felt at once that no subterranean river large enough to produce the rushing of such a torrent was likely, for physical reasons, to exist in the locality, for the noise was that  of  a  distant  Niagara. I was puzzled till I ascended a neighbouring hill, where the roar of the sea was distinctly audible; and I am therefore disposed to think that the fissure must have led to a cave on the sea-shore, from which the sound is conducted, as by a whispering gallery, to this point, distant from it about three miles.”

Tom Kent’s photograph taken from inside the Sinians of Cutclaws,
looking towards Scabra Head and the Hole o’ the Horse.
[Orkney Library & Archive]

Leaving the higher belt of un-cultivated ground, with its gleaming, trout-laden lochs, we made our way to the shore by the lower arable belt; admiring the while the cozy and comfortable appearance of the crofters’ houses, and feeling that since the Crofters Commission have been among them, they must surely be in a state of sweet content which nothing could increase save the purchase of their buildings. The island, we have been told, is in the market; could not their accumulated savings do some-thing therefore at this juncture to transform them into Rousay lairds after the manner of their brethren in Harray! But probably they may think them-selves better as they are, knowing full well that the days are long past when they were in a manner serfs. Of that remote period we were told the following anecdote – which may or may not be as true as the rest of its class – as Egilshay hove in sight on the homeward journey. The laird and a friend were going to the Mainland in a fisherman’s boat, and the talk drifted on to the places where they were born. “I was born in Kirkwall,” quoth the laird; “and I, in Kirkwall,” returned his friend. “Where, my man, were you born?” queried the laird turning to the boatman. “Please your honours,” he replied, “It ill becomes me to speak o’ being born at a’ in presence o’ your worships; but I was whelpit in the puir island o’ Egilshay.” R. J. A.


Davie Flaws

The following is the reproduction of three-and-a-half sides of typed foolscap, found within the effects of the Flaws family
of Hammerfield, Wasbister, Rousay.

It was composed by Mary Flaws, with the assistance of a solicitor, and concerns the payment of what was called Separation Allowance, her
son Davie having been called up to serve in the Army in March 1916.

Mrs. Mary Marwick or Flaws, wife of James Flaws, Farmer, Hammerfield, Rousay.

I am the mother of David Flaws, presently serving with the Expeditionary Force in France. My son served his Apprenticeship as an Assistant Draper with Mr. Thomas T. Smith, Kirkwall, and while doing so lodged with Mrs. Yorston, Victoria Street. His wage during his Apprenticeship was 5/- a week. During his Apprenticeship his father supplied him weekly with food off the farm consisting of potatoes, turnips, meal, bread, butter and eggs and also meat such as a fowl, a rabbit or a piece of pork, according to what we ourselves had at the time. My husband is a mason to trade and is also tenant of the small croft of Hammerfield which extends altogether to 16 acres. We have a family of five. Our croft is a poor one and while all the children were at home we had to live very plainly and had to do without many things we would have liked and which our better off neighbours were having. All the time my son was in town, he sent his clothes home to be washed and mended and I did this for him. My son was always a quiet, careful living lad. With the food which his father sent him weekly he was able, during his Apprenticeship, to live in town and pay for his own lodgings and any other necessaries he required. He finished his Apprenticeship in October last and Mr. Smith then raised his wages to 15/- a week. He continued to live as formerly with Mrs. Yorston and the usual basket of food off the farm was sent in to him weekly. These odd and end things off the farm which were sent to our son were not looked upon as of great value and it was never contemplated that our son should pay for them. My son came home for the New Year of 1916 and when home he gave me £4:10/- in money which he told me he had saved out of his wages. He gave me this money and told me that it was for my personal use and that I was to keep it entirely to myself. He also told me at the same time that he was to continue to give me whatever he could save. A short time after the New Year my son paid for me in Kirkwall accounts amounting to £2 for articles of clothing, &c., which I had got from shops in town. My son was called up for the Army in March and came home before going to Fort George. When home then he gave a further sum of £2 odds. He said at the time he gave me this that he would not need it as he would get all necessaries supplied in the Army and that he intended when he got to Fort George to allot to me, if he could, 5/- a week out of his Army pay. I said I thought this would be more than he could send but he replied that he could easily manage with 2/- a week of pocket money. As soon as he went South he allotted to me from his pay 3/6 a week and he wrote explaining that this was the most that he was allowed to allot.

I have been drawing this allotment ever since. In the month of May I got a form sent to me from Perth in connection with an Application which my son had made for a separation allowance of 10/- a week for me. There were a number of questions in this form which I had to answer and to sign in presence of a Justice of the Peace. I filled up these answers truly and correctly to the best of my ability and I signed the paper before Mr. David Gibson, J.P. and then returned it  to  Perth. A day or two afterwards I got a letter from my son saying that he had made this Application for me and that he considered I was entitled to this allowance as by his joining the Army I was losing what he would have been paying me had he remained in Mr. Smith’s employment. I had no knowledge of my son’s intention to apply for this allowance till I got the form from Perth. When I filled it up I had no doubt in my own mind but that I was legally and justly entitled to the allowance, as the money my son had given me during the time he had 15/- a week amounted to about 10/-, and of course I lost the further sums he intended giving me when he went to the Army. Some time afterwards the Pension Officer called at Hammerfield. I was at  home  alone. He told me he had been sent to make enquiries regarding the Application for separation allowance and put a number of questions to me which I answered. I told him all about my son getting a basket of supplies weekly from the farm and of the sums of money he had given to and paid me after he became a journeyman. The Pension Officer was very bullying in his manner and suggested that I would be prosecuted for filling up the form I sent to Perth. He also said that he was there to decide between me and the Government. The manner in which he spoke and the threats of a probable prosecution annoyed and upset me. I told him, however, that what I had said was only the truth and that I would stand to it. The Pension Officer after noting down the things which my son had been in the habit of getting from home, made an estimate of the value of these things at the prices which they would have cost my son if he had bought them from shops in Kirkwall. He made this out to be something like 7/- a week and argued that as I was getting an allotment of 3/6 I was not losing anything by my son being away and was consequently not entitled to any separation allowance. As a mater of fact, even if my son had paid his father for what was sent in off the farm at the price his father would have got if he had sold these things in Rousay, the weekly basket would not have cost more than about 2/-. I estimate the butter at 5d. a week, fowls at an average of 9d., pork at 6d. for what would be sent at one time and eggs varied in number according to whether they were plentiful or scarce. The number never exceeded six in a week. Sometimes, when eggs were scarce a small quantity of Orkney cheese was sent instead. Rabbits cost us nothing as they were just caught on the farm.

With regard to the statement in the application for Separation Allowance that I was dependant on my son to the extent of 10/- a week this is what he was giving me when  he  was  taken  away. My husband could of course have supported me in the same way as he did when David was an Apprentice, but I would have been deprived of all the extra comforts I was able to obtain when I got the money from my son. I know a number of people in Orkney, who are much better off than I am, who are getting Separation Allowances on account of their sons being called up.


On March 30th 1917, Mary wrote a letter to 20-year-old Davie, a private – No. 12631, in No. 4 Platoon A Company of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, who was by that time serving with the Expeditionary Force in the trenches in France.

Hammerfield Rousay
March 30. ’17.

My Dear Davie.
Just a few lines in answer to both your welcome letters. Glad to see by them that you are well, and in a kind of comfortable billet. Are you getting plenty of food for the are a great cry for hunger in the trenches. I would like to send you a parcel if you would just say anything special to send. You surely have not got the letter I sent to the 17 Section A.P.O. for I told you on the first one I wrote to France that I got the pound you sent from Cromarty alright, and I told you that our case was dropped. The are allowed 5/11 and paid up the Balance on the 2/5 from the time you applied for the separation allowance. It came to 5.10.6 The made it payable in the Wasbister P.O. and it is not a money order Office so he sent back the advice. Jas [Clouston] of Tou thought I should not send back the order till I saw for he thought it could be cashed at Hullion when the forwarded the advice to them. Tell me when you write if you have got any of my letters. I sent 3 letters to your last address. Father is not so bad now but the weather is so rough till he can’t get out to do much yet. It is been a very rough month and it is no better yet. John of Ploverhall is no much better yet. The had a letter from himself and he thought he was not so bad. I told you in my last letter that Alice was away at Edinburgh to see him. The got a wire from her that he was no better. She is coming home next Monday again. John Grieve is in convalisent now he is about better again. Tell me the names of the Orkney boys in you Batt and where the come from.  M. J. Whitemeadows was telling our M. J. that Uncle David was home in ——– now so it is a mercy, for the are had a rough time, and all bad with fever. The papers seems to say that the are making great progress in France now. I will have to draw to a close now with our united love and may the Almighty be with you and all who are in danger and bring a sudden end to this terrible war from
your loving Mother


Davie never received the letter – he was killed in action on April 11th 1917.

The Battle of Arras began on April 9th 1916 in a sleet storm. Canadian and Highland troops captured the whole of Vimy Ridge. The advance slowed and, as German resistance stiffened, casualties increased, in some of the most savage fighting of the whole war. 4th Division’s 10th Infantry Brigade, comprising the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, attacked from Fampoux towards the heavily defended Chemical Works at Roeux on April  11th  1917, with disastrous results. By the end of the day the 2nd Seaforths had ceased to exist, and the other units involved had been decimated.

Davie is buried in a marked grave in the Communal Cemetery Extension in the village of Athies, Pas de Calais.

The photographic montage in tribute to Davie Flaws below includes the following:-

The cap badge of the Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany’s), c1914; the letter he never received; his final resting place: the Communal Cemetery Extension in the village of Athies, Pas de Calais, France [courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission]; and his name, etched for ever more on the Rousay war memorial.


Katherine Craigie – The Rousay Witch

The information recorded in the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland regarding the witchcraft case of Jonet Reid, Orkney, 1643, contains documents from the proceedings during her trial – both of the dittay [(Scots law) the accusation or charge against a person in a criminal case] and of the depositions from her neighbours – charging her of practising witchcraft, sorceries, superstitions, and charms, and of meeting with the devil, ‘her master’. There are ten accusations in total. The following is a brief summary of the neighbours’ accusations:

William Kirknes declared that he heard Jonet mention that she was ‘drying corn for the devil’, and that she offered him some grass of which she claimed, if used in his crops, would make his corn grow better. Robert Sinclair said that he was cured of impotency from a liquid that Jonet made for him to take with his meat. He also claimed to have been advised by Jonet, upon hearing that he was seeing apparitions of his first wife during his sleep, to go to her grave and tell her to trouble him no more. According to Sinclair, after Jonet visited his home and drank of his cow’s milk; the cow bled from then on when milked, until she died. John Kirknes and Elspett Sinclair both declared that Jonet came to their houses, and upon finding them very sick, held them and spoke certain words to cure them. Alexander Linkletter, being another neighbour that apparently was really sick before Jonet ‘spoke certain words to him’ claimed that he was cured within two days to go back to work, from an illness that had him fourteen days bed ridden. According to Alexander, Jonet also tried to cure a child of his that was sick, although no change was noted to have occurred with the child.

The collected accusations above declared by various neighbours of Jonet Reid led the jury to their unanimous decision in July of 1643 that her hands be bound behind her back, and she be brought to the stake and burnt to her ashes.

Katherine Craigie was sentenced to death on 12th July 1643 “for airt and pairt of the using and practeising of the witchcraftis, sorceries, divinatiounes and superstitiounes…”. Katherine Craigie was from Orkney; as were Marable Coupar (1624), Marion Richart (1630), and Jonet Reid (1643) – previous witchcraft cases we have examined from Orkney. In fact Jonet Reid’s trial (Erica Regan’s case) also took place on 12th July 1643, the same day as Katherine Craigie’s. It is possible that they could have been tried together, however there is no mention of this in the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland.

Katherine Craigie’s case was mentioned in Larner’s ‘Source Book of Scottish Witchcraft’. According to Larner’s Source Book there were four other witches tried in Orkney in July 1643; Elizabeth Ranie, the husband of Elizabeth Ranie, Margaret Ranie and Christine Poock. The source book states that these four people were all mentioned/branded as witches by an accused person. It is likely that either Katherine Craigie or Jonet Reid named them as witches during their trial.


(This lists the formal accusations against the alleged and was written in the second person, addressed to the accused. This dittay contains 13 items. The accusations against Katherine Craigie were made by various neighbours, and are concerned with healing, death, devilry and superstition.)

Item 1 – James Caithness from Rowsay had gone over to Westray for the day to do some work. Due to very bad weather he could not get home to his house, in the meantime his wife was worried and wondering where he was. Katherine Craigie went to her and said “Give me some cloth, enough to make a handkerchief, and your husband shall get fair weather to come home shortly”. In the morning the weather became fair and James returned home…”quilk was done be your witchcraft and devilrie”.
– Confessed only that she said that if she was given alms, God would send fair weather.
– Found guilty.

Item 3 – Five years previously Thomas Irwing younger lay very sick in Quondale. Katherine performed the three stones and water ritual on Thomas. He then rose from his bed and Katherine led him to the sea. He was very frightened. Katherine poured three handfuls of water over his head, then they returned to the house. Every day after this he got better…”quilk was done be your witchcraft and devilrie”.
– Confessed to going to the sea and pouring the water on Thomas’s head.
– Found guilty.

Item 4 – Katherine was accused of cursing Margaret Craigie’s calf. The calf had eaten a bit of Katherine’s flax plant and Katherine was very angry and said to Margaret, “Ye shall nevir milk hir, dogis sall eat her”. After this cursing, Margaret Craigie’s calf died and was found having been scavenged by dogs.
– Denied.
– Found guilty.

Item 5 – Katherine went to Henrie Windwik’s house, who lay very ill. She advised Henrie to walk around the loch with her in stormy weather. Henrie refused to do this and later told the kirk session of Katherine’s odd behaviour. Shortly after this Katherine was at Essen Corses’s house and she told him of Henrie Windwik’s reports against her. Katherine told Essen that within a year Henrie would be dead. A year later Henrie did die. After this death Essen Corse told Henrie’s wife of the words Katherine had muttered against Henrie. This was also reported to the kirk session. On the day of the session meeting Essen Corse went to the sea to catch fish with his young son, and Essen was drowned at sea…”quilk was done be your witchcraft and devilrie”.
– Denied.
– Found guilty of the two deaths.

Item 6 – Katherine went to the house of William Flawis in Cogar, William was very sick. She was accused of quarrelling with William’s servant woman, Margaret Irwing. The next day Margaret came into the house and found Katherine standing over the ill William holding something in her hands. Katherine held the object to Margaret’s ear, and Margaret heard a clicking noise and asked what it was. Katherine replied that it was a stone which was split in two and water had entered inside both halves…”quilk was done be your witchcraft and devilrie”.
– Denied.
– Found guilty.

Item 7 – A number of years ago Katherine Craigie was staying at the house of Margaret Craigie, and if Katherine was out of the house, when she returned she was able to tell Margaret all the private and secret things that Margaret had talked about in her absence, and such “revelatioun and foir-knowledge ye haid of the devill, your master”.
– Denied.
– Found guilty.

Item 8 – Similar accusation as Item 7. Katherine Craigie was accused of repeating all the secrets that Katherine Windwick had spoken in her house, when Katherine Craigie had been out.
– Denied.
– Found guilty.

Item 9 – Katherine was accused of stroking Magnus Harca’s painful leg, and curing him of the terrible pain…”quilk was done be your witchcraft and devilrie”.
– Denied.
– Found guilty.

Item 10 – Last year Magnus Craigie in Skaebrek was very sick, Jonet Ingsger his wife was on her way to Hunclet to seek help for him, and on the way she met Katherine, and told her of her husband’s sickness. Katherine said that she had Ursalla Alexanderis “snood” (a ribbon bound round the brow and tied at the back under the hair, worn especially by young unmarried women; a symbol of virginity) and that she would give it to Jonet to tie round her husband’s waist, and this would cure and heal him.
– Confessed that she had Ursalla’s snood, and had said that if it would help her husband, Jonet could have it.
– Found guilty. This was seen as superstitious.

Item 11 – Katherine Barnie went to Katherine Craigie’s house, when she was out, and went to Katherine’s “heavie”?? On the wall of the “heavie” hung a spindle and 3 blades of grass tied in a knot in a handkerchief. Katherine Barnie told Annabill Murray of what she had seen and shortly after this Annabill contracted a lingering disease and died…”quilk wes done be your witchcraft”.
– Denied.
– Found guilty.

Item 12 – Three years previously Katherin Ethay, spous to John Work in Egilschae was married in the kirk. Before they were married together Katherine Craige told Katherin Ethay that when she moved from Rowsay to Egilschae she must remember to take her wash “cog” (a wooden bowl) and her cat to her new home.
– Denied.
– NOT found guilty. Cleared of this accusation.

General Item – “And generall, ye, the said Katherine, ar indytit and accusit for contraveining the tenour of the said act of Parliament and for airt and pairt of the using and practeising of the witchcraftis, sorceries, divinatiounes, and superstitiounes… and that by your cursings and superstitiounes that wrongis and hurtis both man and beast, quilk evills ar brocht to pas by your devilrie and the working of the devil, your master…”


Alexander Kirkness, in Myre, was appointed chancellor of the assyse. He stated that they had found Katherine Craigie guilty of 11 items of the dittay and also the general item, she was cleared of the 12th item.


Katherine Craigie was then taken by the lockman “hir handis behind hir back, and caryit to the place of execution and thair wirreit at a staik and burnt in ashes”.

It would seem that Katherine Craigie was a healer in the community. Almost half of the accusations made against her by her neighbours were to do with healing someone and curing them. With this in mind it would appear that Katherine Craigie was a relatively ‘good witch’. Katherine Craigie’s case is similar to many other witch trials in that she was accused of cursing animals and people which resulted in their deaths. Although she is accused of having the devil as her master, there is no suggestions in the dittay that she ever met him.

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall
Marwick’s Hole

The Cathedral Dungeon: “…that Marwick’s Hole was a name of terror to the most hardened transgressors we have abundant proof.” [B. H. Hossack – Kirkwall in the Orkneys.]

St Magnus Cathedral has the distinction of being the only cathedral in the British Isles with its own dungeon. This holding-pen, known as “Marwick’s Hole” was in use as late as the eighteenth century. It would have been here that Katherine Craigie was incarcerated before being led away to meet her fate.

The identity of the “Marwick” who gave his name to the chamber is not known. Was he in some way involved in its construction or use? Or perhaps one of the first occupants?

It is not clear when Marwick’s Hole was actually created, but one source claims it dates from around 1540-1558 – the era of Bishop Robert Reid.

The chamber is found between the south wall of the choir and the south transept chapel. Upon first glance the area seems unremarkable – merely another section of wall – but up above eye-level is a dark opening that betrays the existence of the prison.

“Many a time has the Cathedral echoed with the screams and imprecations of reluctant women and men on their way, short as it was, to the dreaded Marwick’s Hole.” [B. H. Hossack.]

Originally the detention chamber was accessed from an upper chamber, the prisoners being deposited into Marwick’s Hole via a chute.

“When an unfortunate was sentenced to imprisonment he glided gently from the hall of justice directly into his cell. Once in escape was impossible, and when the aperture was closed the unhappy occupant was in total darkness.” [B. H. Hossack.]

This method of imprisoning wrongdoers changed in later years. According to Hossack, in Kirkwall in the Orkneys: “[the Protestant clergy] blocked the easy shoot, opened a door in the built up window, and from the south transept chapel, where they sit, send their prisoners round into the church and up a ladder into their cell.”

Leg irons – relics from the Cathedral’s past.
The old curfew bell, and the hangman’s ladder


Maidment, J., and Turnbull, W., eds 1837 ‘Witchcraft Sorcery and Superstition in Orkney
in Abbotsford Club Miscellany vol I, pp.135-85 (Edinburgh)

B. H. Hossack ‘Kirkwall in the Orkneys‘ – Wm Peace & Son, Kirkwall 1900