Loss of the Rousay Post Boat

In December 1825 James Sinclair of Newhouse was drowned when his boat sank off Scabra Head. Also lost in the accident were 13-year-old Alexander Mainland of Tratland and one of his elder half-brothers, James or Robert, through his father’s first marriage to Margaret Sinclair.

A painting of the Rousay post boat that was lost between Evie and Rousay in 1893 with the loss of six lives.

In 1893 the sea was to claim another member of the Sinclair family. James the elder, then in his 75th year, operated the small open mail boat, which plied between Rousay and Evie, with 56-year-old John Reid of Tratland. On Wednesday October 11th 1893, while crossing Eynhallow Sound, the boat was lost in a south-westerly gale. It was struck by a squall and overturned, claiming the lives of not only  James  and  John, but also 35-year-old Lydia Craigie, wife of Robert Gibson, originally of  Langskaill, and three of her children, David 9, Maggie Jessie 6, and Lily Ann 4, who were being conveyed as passengers. Another boat in vicinity saw the boatmen and passengers clinging briefly to the upturned hull but could do nothing to help, and several days later the mail boat was washed ashore on Papa Stronsay.

The bodies of James and John were recovered and interred in the Westside kirkyard – 68 years after James’s father was lost nearby at Scabra Head. Lydia and her three children’s lives are commemorated on a headstone in the kirkyard at Stenness, the family having earlier moved to Lochend in that parish. Lydia’s name is also inscribed on the family headstone in the Wester kirkyard on Rousay.

This is how The Orcadian and Orkney Herald newspapers reported the tragedy:



A terrible boating accident occurred in Orkney on Wednesday, resulting in the loss of six lives. The island of Rousay is separated from the mainland by Eynhallow Sound, which is about two miles in breadth, and through which the tide runs with great velocity. With a south-westerly gale, such as was raging on Wednesday, there is always a nasty sea in this Sound; but notwithstanding this, the little boat which plies between Rousay and the mainland with the mails, successfully made the run to Evie that forenoon. After taking on board the mails from the South, and Mrs Gibson, of Lochside, Stenness, and her three children, the boat left Evie on the home journey. When only a short distance from the land, however, the boat was struck by a sudden squall, and the agonised spectators on shore saw it overturn with its living freight. Boat and occupants were swept away with the tide, before any assistance could be rendered – and crew, passengers, and mails were lost. The boat was managed by two Rousay men – one named John Reid, (56 years of age), residing at [Tratland] Frotoft, and the other named James Sinclair, (75 years of age), residing at Newhouse, Frotoft. Mrs Gibson, who with her three children had been lost, was going across to Rousay to visit some friends. When the upturned mail boat was last seen, it was rapidly drifting out of Eynhallow Sound.

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 the lea 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 William 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 up 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 off 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 over several times, and was carried away past Rousay towards the Atlantic.

[The Orcadian – Saturday, October 14, 1893]



A sad boat accident, resulting in the loss of six lives, occurred in Eynhallow Sound about noon on Wednesday. A small square-sterned boat, which was temporarily being used to carry the mails between Evie and Rousay, capsized off Aikerness, Evie, soon after starting for Rousay. The boat had safely crossed from Rousay earlier in the day, and though there is always a rapid tide through the sound, and a strong gale was blowing from the south-west, the men did not think there was any danger. Beside the two boatmen, John Reid and James Sinclair, there were on board Mrs. Gibson, jr., of Lochside, Stenness, and three of her children. The boat was close-reefed, and was only a short distance from the shore when she was suddenly struck by a squall and capsized. She turned over several times and then drifted northwards between the island of Eynhallow and Rousay out to the Atlantic. The woman and children seem to have gone down almost at once, but the men were seen for a little time, Reid clinging to the bottom of the boat till it turned over again and he lost his hold. The accident was seen from the shore, and steps were at once taken to render help. A boat which was lobster-fishing in the neighbourhood and boats from the shore went to the spot where the accident had occurred and after the drifting boat, but were too late to render any assistance. Much sympathy is felt with the relatives of those who have lost their lives. The two mail-bags came ashore at Westness, Rousay, on Friday, and the mails were delivered the following day. Many of the addresses were almost illegible. The oars and loose boards in the bottom of the boat have also been washed ashore, but no trace of the missing bodies has yet been found.

[Orkney Herald]


Some further accounts are coming to hand of the terrible boating disaster which occurred at Evie on Wednesday last. It seems that though a severe gale of south-westerly wind was blowing, neither crew nor passengers had any misgivings regarding the two-miles’ passage across Eynhallow Sound. Mrs Gibson and her children seemed quite delighted at the prospect of the sail. The boat, however, had scarcely rounded Aikerness Point when it was swamped by the sudden squall. Mrs Gibson and her three children were never again seen, but one of the two boatmen, John Reid, was observed scrambling onto the keel of the boat. He was only there a few minutes, however, when the little craft gave a heavy lurch, pitching the unfortunate man once more into the sea. The two mail bags which were in the boat have been washed ashore at Rousay. A small boat, 10½ feet keel, square-sterned, and painted light blue outside, supposed to be the one  lost at Evie, was driven ashore on the north side of Papa Stronsay last week. It has three fixed thwarts in it, two fitted for a mast, evidently for either a smack or lug rig, but there were no traces of either a mast or sail attached. It had a square iron rollock on each side, fastened with a chain, and two small sail thimbles, fastened one on each quarter, evidently for the sheet. Feeling allusion was made to the sad event in many of the pulpits in Orkney last Sunday. None of the bodies have yet been recovered.

[The Orcadian – Saturday, October 21, 1893]


The body of a boy, son of Mr Gibson, jr. Lochside, Stenness, and one of the children drowned through the capsizing of the Rousay post boat in Eynhallow Sound on October 11th, came ashore near Burgar, Evie, on Tuesday last week.

[Orkney Herald – November 15, 1893]


The body of a man, which has been identified as that of John Reid, one of the boatmen who were drowned by the capsizing of the Rousay post boat in Eynhallow Sound on the 11th of October, came ashore  on  Saturday on the west side of the Sand of Evie. The body of Mrs Gibson, Lochside, Stenness, who was lost in the same accident, has been found at Rousay.

[Orkney Herald – November 22, 1893]


The body of James Sinclair, one of the boatmen lost in the Rousay post boat on the 11th October in Eynhallow Sound, was found on Saturday morning. This makes the fourth body that has been found of the six lost by the accident.

[Orkney Herald – December 13, 1893]

The gravestones of Robert Sinclair and John Reid, in the Westside Kirkyard
– and that of Lydia Craigie, wife of Robert Gibson, and their three children
in the Stenness kirkyard.


Taversoe Tuick – Part 4


My first view of Taversoe Tuick, in photos taken in June 1975, when
the chambered cairn was under the care of the ‘Ministry of Works’.

Today Taversoe Tuick, and the island’s other sites of archaeological interest are now
under the wing of Historic Environment Scotland – and are all free to access.

Below is a series of photos taken in January 2018.

The Upper Chamber of the cairn was discovered in 1898, when General Burroughs and his wife were having a seat constructed on this spot – Flagstaff Hill – not far from Trumland House, in the background of this photo.
The Neolithic cairn is unusual, due to the fact it is a two-storey construction dating from c.3000BC
The hole in the Upper Chamber floor is a ‘modern’  creation, providing access to  the Lower Chamber.
The Upper Chamber was found to contain the cremated remains of one or more adults and a child
– as well as pottery and animal bones.
Taversoe Tuick chambered cairn, overlooking the Sounds of Wyre and Eynhallow


Taversoe Tuick – Part 3


James K Yorston and his like-named son have to take great credit for being involved in the excavation of many of Rousay’s archaeological sites. Evidence of this is due to the fact they were elected Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Their work has been admired by many – and one visitor to Rousay was moved to write a few verses after their exploration of Taversoe Tuick.

[My thanks to Brian Halcro for submitting the above verse
from his collection of Yorston family memorabilia]


Taversoe Tuick – Part 2


by   WALTER G. GRANT, F.S.A.Scot.

The discovery of Neolithic burial chambers at Taiverso Tuick in 1898 has been described by Lady Burroughs in a manuscript now preserved at Trumland House, and in our Proceedings, vol. xxxvii. pp. 73-82, by Sir William Turner. The discovery was an incident in the excavation of a sheltered site for a garden seat in a small mound, situated almost, but not quite, on the summit of a ridge which slopes up northward from the sea to 217.42 0.D. The mound was “about 4½ feet above the natural lie of the ground on its lower side and 2 feet on its northern side, and had a diameter of about 30 feet.” In the course of its excavation Lady Burroughs records first the exposure of “a neat, well-preserved, rough-built wall with uprights of stone slabs,” then the discovery of “three stone kists full of small bones, earth, and vitrifactions,” and finally the disclosure of a subterranean chamber. The latter has been fully described in our Proceedings, and the relics from it now repose in the National Museum. The similarity of its plan and contents to those of Unstan at once establish its character as a collective burial chamber of the type currently termed Neolithic. The “three kists” have disappeared, but as they appear to have contained cremated bones and to have “been built on a layer of earth about a foot thick” covering the lintels of the subterranean chamber, they may be regarded as Bronze Age intrusions.

The “neat wall with uprights of stone slabs” remained a puzzle to such antiquaries as have visited the site. The exposed strip of dry-stone walling terminating in upright slabs and concave to the south recalled the plan and masonry of the intact chamber below. But antiquaries were reluctant to believe that the two chambers were contemporary, since a two-storeyed burial vault would be unprecedented.

The excavations by H.M.O.W. in 1937 have conclusively established that the upper construction was really a burial vault belonging to the same archaeological period as the lower by the recovery of its complete plan, and particularly by the discovery of an entrance passage, previously blocked. At the same time the truly subterranean character of the lower chamber was defined, and a new intact chamber was revealed close to the latter’s mouth.

The plan of the upper chamber might be described as an oval, 15 feet 6 inches along the major axis from east to west and 6 feet along the minor axis (fig. 1). But the south side of this “oval” is really flattened out, and the east end has been reduced by truncation and restriction to a cell. The floor of this chamber is formed by the lintels of the lower one, on which the masonry of the walls rests save at No. 5 (Sir William Turner’s statement that “the westmost lintel crumbled into flakes and had to be removed” is clearly wrong, since the lintel in question, No. 6, is still in position with the intact walls of the upper chamber resting upon it. His statement may, however, mean that a flooring slab had once rested on lintel No. 6). Save at the east end there was no trace of a prepared clay floor resting upon the lintels such as Mr Calder observed in the upper chamber at Huntersquoy, Eday. However, the upper surface of the eastern-most or first lintel, which forms the floor of the eastern cell of the upper chamber, is 7½ inches below that of the second lintel and the rest of the chamber floor. This disparity was partially rectified by a layer of local clay on the floor of the east end, and this survived to a depth of 2 inches under the masonry of the east wall. The crumbled lintel or flooring slab at the westmost end removed by Turner might have rectified the existing disparity in levels between lintels 5 and 6; the former being some 2 to 3 inches higher than the latter.

The lintels of the lower chamber not only provide the floor of the upper, but they also condition the planning of its masonry. The skeleton of the chamber walls may have been formed, as in Caithness, of slabs on edge transverse to the line of the walls. Of such, three survive in the north wall (Pl. LXIII, 2) and one in the south; Mr Richardson detected the gap for a second slab in the two surviving courses of masonry of the south wall opposite the westernmost slab on the north wall, and a slab, actually found in the debris filling the west end of the chamber, has accordingly been set up in the gap. The two eastern slabs form a pair, both resting upon the first lintel and with their faces against the edge of the high second lintel. They serve to frame the portal to the eastern cell. The surviving western slab stands, not on lintel 5, but on virgin soil beyond its end, and the same is true of its southern counterpart as now set up. Between the slabs of this skeleton the walls are formed of coursed masonry. As far as they survive, the inner faces of the masonry are almost flush with the edges of the uprights, so that the latter do not effectively serve either to divide the chamber into compartments or to frame stalls.

Entrance to the chamber was provided by a passage, 1¾ foot wide and 11 feet long, opening rather east of the centre of the north wall immediately west of the large lintel 2 of the lower chamber. The passage is lined throughout with dry masonry, surviving in places to a height of 3 feet, the basal course of the east wall for a distance of 3¾ feet being formed by lintel 2, the western edge of which defines the line of the wall. The passage was, however, found blocked with similar masonry at its inner end, a phenomenon noted in comparable burial-places in Scotland and elsewhere. The ends of the building slabs forming the west wall of the passage also constitute the north wall of the chamber between the passage mouth and the central upright, a distance of 10 inches. Between the central and western uprights the north wall is slightly concave, and, perhaps owing to slip, seems corbelled, so that the overhang against the west upright, 3 feet from the floor, is already 8 inches. Beyond the upright the wall curves inwards more rapidly and the oversailing is accentuated, so that immediately west of the upright the last surviving course, 2 feet 4 inches from the floor, projects as much as 2 feet beyond the line of the foundation course.

The south wall is nearly straight from the south-west corner of the rounded western end, but it has been so much damaged in the preparations for the shelter that for most of its length only two courses of masonry survive, and only a gap between the horizontal slabs opposite the west upright in the north wall indicated the position of the counterpart which has now been set up by the Office of Works.

Be that as it may, the south wall turns south at a right angle, 5 feet 8 inches from its western end and precisely opposite the mouth of the entrance passage, to give access to a recess or cell. The entrance to the latter is 2 feet wide. Beyond the gap the line of the south wall is not continued, but the east wall of the recess is continued northward 1 foot 4 inches beyond that line along the western margin of lintel 2. Similarly the east wall of the entrance passage is continued 2 feet farther south than the north wall along the same lintel’s edge. The two masonry piers, formed by the continuation of these walls, end in carefully rounded corners, beyond which both walls run eastward, only 2 feet apart, for a distance of 2 feet across lintel 2 till they abut against the easternmost pair of uprights which, as noted above, are set against the eastern edge of lintel 2. The piers thus border a short passage which leads, through the portal formed by the uprights, to the east compartment or cell. The latter is horse-shoe-shaped. The floor, as noted, is some 7 inches lower than that of the main chamber (Pl. LXIV, 2).

The provisional description of the upper chamber might therefore be amended by describing it as an oval truncated at the east end, with a horseshoe cell at that end and a second cell in the south wall. The latter cell is really little more than a passage 4½ feet long and about 2 feet wide continuing the line of the entrance passage and almost above the entrance of the lower chamber. For the first 1⅔ foot the floor of the cell is formed by lintel 3, beyond the latter’s south end by the lintels roofing the passage of entrance to the lower chamber. Even the innermost of these lintels is some 6 inches below the surface of lintel 3, so that most of the cell lies at a lower level than the main chamber. The deep inner part of the cell is roofed with two lintels, 2 feet 6 inches from its floor, but no lintel survives over that part which is paved by lintel 3. The rear wall of the cell is straight and vertical and not very effectively bonded into the side walls, so as to give rather the impression of a blocking.

The upper chamber was covered with a cairn bounded by an almost circular retaining wall. This is bonded into the wall of the entrance passage on the east. On the west side of the entrance, though a single surviving course of masonry carries on the line of the passage to the circumference of the cairn, the retaining wall only begins again west of a flat slab on edge set parallel to the passage wall and 1½ foot back from its line at the western corner of the entrance. Between the line of the west wall and this slab only rough blocking survived, so that there may originally have been a sort of recess on this side of the entrance. A second slab on edge is built radially into the retaining wall 16 feet farther west. Beyond the retaining wall a thin spread of stones extends for about 11 feet towards the summit of the hill to the north and west and 24 feet down hill on the south (Plates LXIII and LXIV, 1). No trace of an outer wall or peristalith could, however, be found, though a careful search for one was made at Mr Richardson’s request. However, a curious alley, clear of stones and roughly bordered with boulders (not building slabs), leads through the stony area to the base of the cairn’s wall on the west (Pl. LXIV, 1). It is possible that this is somehow connected with General Burroughs’s operations, though there is no evidence to support this contention.

The chamber just described is built above and upon the lintels of a smaller subterranean chamber (fig. 2). The latter has been adequately described already by Sir William Turner. The chamber, with a total length of 12 feet, a maximum width of 5⅓ feet, and a height of 4⅔ feet is, like the upper one, constructed round a skeleton of five uprights, but is entered from the south. The south wall is almost straight and vertical. The rear wall is built in two segments on either side of the central upright, both concave. The ends are curved, forming cells like flattened horseshoes. The three slabs in the north wall project to form stalls occupied by benches formed of slabs raised 1 foot above the floor. The end compartments, similarly benched 1½ foot at east and 1 foot 1 inch at west above the floor, are separated from the central part of the chamber by the portals formed by the paired uprights in the south and north walls, but the southern uprights do not project appreciably beyond the line of the wall-face. While the front wall is practically vertical, the end and rear walls slope inwards in four distinct segments, but this seems due to slip rather than deliberate corbelling. Eke stones have been inserted above and behind the uprights where these do not reach the level of the lintels.

The entrance passage, which contracts outward, was found partially blocked by a slab fitted into the side walls some 13½ feet from the chamber but continued roofed for a total length of 18 feet, beyond which an open trench, to which we shall return later, extends for a further 19 feet.

The most striking fact about the lower chamber, not sufficiently emphasised in the original report, is that it is built entirely in an artificial excavation in the hillside, the masonry walls off chamber and passage being merely a lining to the crumbling rock and clay of the shaft. The excavation had been carried down by the tomb’s builders to a horizontal bed of fairly solid rock which actually forms the chamber floor. A quarried ledge of similar rock forms the basal course of the south wall, west of the entrance. The irregularly sloping rock-face of the excavation is also exposed under the benches of the terminal compartments and the northern stalls, the bench slabs actually reposing at the back on ledges of rock though supported in front by building, and in a gap of the passage’s western face, 2 feet 6 inches from the chamber. Here the rock lies 1⅔ to 2 feet behind the face of the passage wall some 2 feet above the floor, with loose stones lying between the back of the wall and the rock. By careful removal of a stone just below the first lintel in the north-east corner the natural clay capping the rock was found about 10 inches behind the wall-face (see Sections A-B and C-D  on  fig. 2).

The lintels of the roof too, while undoubtedly supported by the masonry walls, generally rest also on the solid ground beyond the limits of the original excavation. Lintel 1 (on the east) extends under the walls of the upper chamber well beyond the limits of the lower’s masonry walls. The enormous second lintel, 10 inches thick and over 9½ feet long, was proved to be embedded on solid clay at its northern end so that some 1¾ foot of its total length probably rests on solid ground. The sixth lintel likewise rests on the same solid clay ground as the end walls of the upper  chamber. A comparison of the plans will show how the upper chamber’s walls, even when resting on the lintels of the lower, are in most cases vertically above, not its masonry walls, but the walls of the original pit. The passage too must originally have been an open trench subsequently lined with masonry and lintelled over for a distance of 18 feet. Beyond the lintelled section the sloping walls of this trench cut in the solid are actually visible to-day. And at the mouth of the roofed section the uppermost 18 inches of masonry are carried round for some 1¼ foot on either side so as to abut against the sloping walls of the trench (Pl. LXIII, l).

The passage does not terminate, as might have been expected, where the natural slope of the hill would bring its floor level with the ground surface, some 20 feet out from the chamber. It is continued as a narrow channel, only 18 inches wide, tapering to 2½ inches wide for a further 19 feet. The walls of this channel are lined with masonry, continuous with that lining the passage, and it is, moreover, roofed with miniature lintels, some 9 inches to 2 inches above its floor, though only six of these were in position in 1937. This small channel gives the impression of being a drain, designed to carry off water from the main chamber. But Lady Burroughs remarked in 1899 that it could not fulfil such a function owing to the blocking stone 13½ feet down the passage already mentioned. In fact no discharge along the channel was observed during the heavy rains of July 1938. No water percolated into the chamber through the side walls, and the rain that had come in through the broken roof seeped away in a day. Accordingly, the natural joints and bedding plains of the rock must provide sufficient drainage to make an artificial outlet for water unnecessary. Finally, the channel terminates at the mouth of a miniature rock-cut chamber, so that any moisture it carried would be discharged into the latter.

As noted earlier, the upper chamber is bounded by a retaining wall, while beyond this is a spread of stones with no outer wall or peristalith. Tirring and excavation, to define the area of this spread, was carried out in 1937, and in doing this a “loose stone” in being removed brought into view the interior of a small subterranean cell situated at the termination of the continued “trench or drain” from the lower chamber (Pl. LXV, 1).

Very little soil had percolated into the cell past the crude blocking, if such it were, and cleaning out revealed a horseshoe-shaped subterranean chamber hewn out of the rock and lined with most precisely and perfectly built masonry, and having an unlined rock-hewn entrance way leading into it from the south-west (fig. 3, below). Examination of the entrance showed that the chamber plan had been primarily hewn out of the natural rock, which is split off in layers approximately 1 inch thick, and suggests, at the downward sloping entrance, miniature steps. This entrance passage, 2 feet 3 inches long and widening from 12 inches to 2 feet 3 inches at the chamber mouth, has a flat rock floor, level with that of the chamber, and is now spanned by a single lintel stone 13 inches wide and 3 inches thick at 1 foot 9 inches from the floor, supported on the natural rock at it northern end and on a slab on edge at its southern end. This slab on edge, which suggests a door portal, has no counterpart on the north.

The chamber or cell, the main axis of which south-west to north-east is 5 feet long, and minor axis south-east to north-west 4 feet 3 inches long, is roofed with three lintels at from 2 feet 6 inches to 2 feet 11 inches above its flat and level rock floor. There are four slabs on edge set radially to the chamber: No. 1 to the right on entering the chamber projects some 3 inches beyond the masonry which lines the chamber between the right “door portal” and No. 1 slab and 11 inches from the walling to the north-east; No. 2 projects some 5 inches to 12 inches beyond the masonry walls; No. 3 is practically flush with the walling; and No. 4, projecting 3 inches from the chamber’s masonry wall, has no abutting building work on its passage or south-west face, and shows its full width of 6 inches. The walling to the chamber between slabs 1 and 4 is built concave on plan giving a horseshoe shape, but it runs up quite vertically from the floor in height. The floor, as previously mentioned, is flat and level and hewn out of solid rock, as is noted particularly between slabs 1 and 2, where the rock shows 5 inches to 9 inches above floor-level before building begins. The built walls, plumb from floor to roof, are constructed of the rock obtained from the quarrying of the chamber shape. As stated earlier in this report, these walls are of precisely and perfectly built masonry, and show as many as 39 stones in a height of 2 feet 7½ inches, with a remarkably even face and a complete absence of any projecting or protruding stones. One of the roof slabs had fractured and dropped slightly in the centre, but otherwise the chamber was intact, clean and dry, and contained 4 vessels. The fact that the room was clean and dry should be particularly noted when it is recalled that the mouth or outlet of the trench or drain from the lower of the two chambers previously described is only some 2 feet from the mouth of the cell and 2 feet 6 inches above its floor. Of constructed or deliberate blocking there was no evidence, only a little debris and stone filling up the entrance proper.


The Upper Chamber had suffered so much disturbance that very little of its original furniture survived. But two flint implements, found on the floor, may be regarded as remains of the primary grave-goods. Fig. 4, 1, is a leaf-shaped arrow-head, broken at the point, and now 2 cm. long. It is worked on both faces, but only along the edges on the bulbar face. Both surfaces are mottled with an irregular white patina.

Fig. 4, 2, is a thick leaf-shaped point, 4 cm. long, made of unpatinated black flint, trimmed on both faces. One edge has been straightened out as a result of the removal of a small facet from the point. This flake, though resembling a graver facet in the manner of its detachment, has not left a graver edge and may not have been intentional. Along the base, part of the crust of the original nodule has been left on one face.

A third implement, fig. 4, 3, of yellowish chert, though found on the top of the broken-down wall of the eastern cell about 2 feet back from the face, may also pass as original. The bulbar face shows a number of broad, shallow, thinning flakes; the outer surface is trimmed only along the two edges. In a general way the implement is comparable to the flint knives from the stalled cairns of Midhowe and Yarso

Near the inner end of the entrance passage, under blocking stones but 9 to 12 inches above the floor, were found 35 disc beads of greyish flagstone and a perforated pendant of pumice (Pl. LXVI, 3). These are the first stone beads to be recorded from a Neolithic chamber in Scotland, but after all do not differ essentially in form from the disc beads of “jet,” frequently found in Early Bronze Age graves, including the cist built in the chamber of the long horned cairn of Yarrows in Caithness. The pumice pendant, 2.8 cm. long, 2.1 cm. wide, and 1.2 cm. thick, is also unique. The possibility cannot be excluded that the beads and pendant belong to the furniture of secondary interments in, or contemporary with, the “three stone kists” mentioned by Lady Burroughs.

A like suspicion applies in a still higher degree to some sherds found outside the door of the upper chamber. They are reddish in colour, and contain large grits and include part of a flat base and of a rim, possibly false. The flat-bottomed urn to which all presumably belong seems to have been built up in rings and bears a general resemblance to domestic pots, usually termed Iron Age in Orkney, but is not far removed from some of the thinner vessels from Rinyo. Finally, from a dump of material presumably removed by General Burroughs from the upper chamber come a calcined scraper on a split round nodule of flint, half a similar scraper not certainly calcined, and two rim fragments of a steatite bowl with a groove below the rim (fig. 5, 1, below). Two shoulder-blades of oxen were also found in the entrance passage.

From the Lower Chamber fragments of at least three urns and part of a human jaw-bone were recovered on removing one of the benches. All the recognisable fragments belong to carinated bowls of the familiar Unstan type. One is undecorated, but burnished, tool marks being visible on the surface (fig. 5, 2). The rim is thinned and slightly everted, giving a faint hint of kinship with the “Yorkshire bowls.” A second is decorated with oblique incisions alternating in the usual Unstan manner. On the third only two grooves parallel to the rim can be seen; it may well belong to the same urn as the fragment collected by General Burroughs and illustrated in Proceedings, vol. lxv. p. 88, fig. 11, 1. Even so, adding the new rim fragments to those there illustrated, it appears that at least sixteen urns must have been included in the original furniture of this chamber.

A further fragment of the stone hammer, previously recovered from the passage into the chamber just outside the “ barrier,” was found on the dump from the General’s operations, and permits of a restoration of the whole weapon (fig. 6). It shows that while the end first recovered expands like the butt of a Continental battle-axe, the opposite end neither expanded nor tapered to a blade, but finished up rather in the manner appropriate to the commoner pestle-shaped mace-heads.

The Miniature Chamber outside the cairn contained two complete vases, while parts of two others were found, one in its entrance. No. 1 is a complete bowl of dark brown to black ware, with a corky appearance due to the decomposition of the grit temper. It is 15.7 cm. in diameter at the mouth and 10.3 cm. deep, the walls being 5 mm. to 9 mm. thick. An applied moulding runs right round the vase, giving the effect of a carination. The vase thus represents type D in Piggott’s classification of British Neolithic pot-forms. This form was hitherto unknown in Scotland. Vessels of the same general shape but substantially deeper and decorated in the Beacharra style proper to South-Western Scotland and Northern Ireland do indeed come from Clettraval, North Uist. But closer parallels can be found in Southern England. No. 2 is a typical carinated bowl of Unstan type, 19.5 cm. in diameter and 9 cm. deep. The neck is nearly vertical, the base sags heavily at the centre, precisely as in the bowl from the long stall cairn at Midhowe, Rousay. The neck is decorated with a single zone of patterns varying in panels. The zone is bounded above by a continuous incised line, and similar lines, either oblique or vertical, separate the panels. These incisions have been executed with a square-ended tool. The panels are mostly filled in with long stab-marks, made with the same tool and arranged in varying directions. Only in one panel are the stabs joined by “drags” to form continuous lines as in the classical Unstan decoration. No. 3, found at floor-level in the entrance, is part of a plain baggy pot of Piggott’s form B, probably 13.5 cm. in diameter at the mouth and more than 10 cm. deep. The rim is plain, and no trace survives of the lugs usually attached to vases of this shape. No. 4, found in the entrance, represents part of a keeled bowl without any decoration.

The group of vases from this intact chamber establishes the co-existence of typically North Scottish (Orcadian) Unstan bowls with classic forms of the Windmill Hill or British Neolithic A ceramic series. To this extent it justifies the contention that the culture of the chambered tombs of Orkney is a specialised variant of the more generalised Neolithic culture of these islands.

Extracted from

The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Volume 73, pp. 155-166 1938-39

Available in the Orkney Room
at Orkney Library & Archive


Taversoe Tuick – Part 1




In the month of May 1898 I received from Lieutenant-General Traill Burroughs, C.B., of Rousay, Orkney, a box containing some human bones and other objects which had been obtained whilst excavating a mound on his property of Rousay. From letters which General Burroughs has written to me, and from sketches made by himself and Mrs Traill Burroughs, I have compiled the following description.

The mound is situated on Flagstaff Hill, near his residence, Trumland House, and is known by the local name of Taversoe Tuick. It was about 4½ feet above the natural lie of the ground on its lower or southern side, and about 2 feet on the northern or upper side. It was circular at the base and had a diameter of about 30 feet. The surface was overgrown with heather, but with grass at the apex, and the bulk of the mound was composed of loose stones and earth.

The excavations were begun in order to make a summer-seat on the mound to face the south, which commands a fine prospect, and to be protected from the north and east. With this object a wedge-shaped block was cut out of the south aspect of the mound, and as that did not suffice for the purpose required, the excavation was carried further into the mound at the apex of the wedge, in the form of a semicircle. A rough stone wall was exposed near the north face of the mound, about a foot below the surface. It was built of flat stones placed horizontally, with an upright flat stone at each end, and the ends were 4 feet apart. The stone to the west was 33 inches in height and entirely concealed in the mound; that to the east was 41 inches in height, and its upper end projected into the grassy covering of the mound for a few inches, but it did not attract attention until its continuity with the concealed part of the stone was observed.

The excavation was then continued to the immediate south of this wall, when three stone cists in close proximity to each other and to the stone wall were exposed. One of the cists was situated at the foot of the tallest upright stone. Unfortunately they had been broken by the workmen before General Burroughs saw them, so that their exact dimensions cannot be given. The cists are described as “small,” and not more than from 1½ to 2 feet in length and breadth, but the length rather exceeded the breadth. They were constructed of undressed flat stones, and the cover-stones were about one inch and a half thick. They contained fragments of whitened bones, which General Burroughs is inclined to think had been contained in urns lodged in the cists. The cists had been built on a layer of earth about a foot thick; when this was removed, the stone roof of an underground chamber was exposed 4 feet 3 inches below the surface of the ground. The two upright stones and the foundations of the wall discovered earlier in the excavation rested on the roof of this chamber at its northern end. As the excavation proceeded this chamber was more fully exposed. Its roof was formed of five large lintel stones, the long axes of which ran north and south. They rested on the end and side walls, and varied in length, as far as visible, from 4 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 2 inches, and in breadth from 2 feet 1 inch to 3 feet. The middle stone was broken; the two on the east side were entire; of the two westmost stones, one was cracked in two, the other crumbled into flakes and had to be removed. The stones forming the roof were massive flags, which varied in thickness from 3 to 10 or 11 inches.

The chamber itself (fig. 1) consisted of a central part and four recesses or alcoves – two at the north end, one at the east, and another at the west – and the flagstones just referred to roofed in both the body of the chamber and the recesses. The interior measurements of the entire chamber with its recesses were 12 feet in length, 5 feet 4 inches in width, and 4 feet 8 inches in height. The eastern recess was 4 feet 2 inches long by 2 feet 4 inches in width, and 2 feet 11 inches in height; that at the north-east was 3 feet in length by 2 feet 4 inches in breadth, by 3 feet 5 inches in height; that at the north-west was 3 feet 6 inches in length by 1 foot 11 inches in breadth, by 3 feet 10 inches in height; and that at the west was 3 feet 7 inches in length by 3 feet in breadth, by 4 feet in height. Each recess approximated in outline to a semicircle.

The stones which lined it were arranged so as to form a beehive-like alcove; passing horizontally across each recess and raised about a foot above the paved floor was a flagstone, which divided the recess into an upper and a lower compartment, both filled with dark greasy mud. The side walls of the chamber were built of flat stones, and similar flags formed its floor. A skeleton bent upon itself was found in the north-west recess. Fragments of a human skeleton were also found in the north-eastern recess. In removing the earth which had fallen into the chamber numerous pieces of broken pottery were found, so that several urns had probably been deposited there. There were no signs of cremation in the chamber itself.

The chamber at its south aspect opened into a long passage, which ran to the south face of the mound, and ended outside the mound about 15 feet from the interior of the chamber. The earth which concealed it was from 1 to 3 feet in thickness, and was covered by strong heather, so that there was no indication on the surface of the existence of the passage. Where it left the chamber it was 3 feet 9 inches high and 2 feet wide, and about 12 feet from the chamber it diminished to 2 feet 4 inches in height and 1 foot 9 inches in width, and it seemed as if it was continued into a passage smaller in all its dimensions, which General Burroughs speaks of as a drain. About 2 feet 6 inches from the chamber a small recess was found in the west wall of the passage about 1 foot 8 inches above the floor of the passage. The long axis of the recess, 2 feet 4 inches, was parallel to that of the passage, its breadth was 1 foot 4 inches, its height was 11 inches. It was bounded by an upright stone built into the wall, which did not project into the passage. This stone was 2 feet 3 inches in height, 2 feet in breadth, and 6 inches in thickness.

The walls of the passage were formed of flag-like stones placed horizontally, and the passage was paved with flags about 1½ inches thick.

At about 13 feet 6 inches from the chamber a block of stone lay in its long diameter across the passage and fitted into the wall on each side. It rested on the floor, and projected from it to the height of 12 inches. Its long diameter, so far as was visible, was about 1 foot 9 inches, and it was 1 foot in breadth. From its position it formed an imperfect barrier against entrance into the proximal part of the passage and the chamber. The narrow drain-like continuation of the passage was traced for a distance of 15 feet from the chamber, and gradually diminished in width and correspondingly in height. At the end furthest removed from the chamber it bent somewhat to the east, but it has not yet been traced to its ultimate termination. Although drain-like in its mode of construction, it obviously could not have acted as a drain, as the stone barrier would have checked a flow outwards from the chamber.

Three heaps of bones, representing probably as many skeletons, were found in the passage between the chamber and the barrier stone.

Immediately to the south of the barrier stone the broken half of a hammer-head of smooth grey granite (fig. 2), about 2 inches in diameter, was found, and not far from it a flake of flint, triangular in shape, which might have been used as a scraper. Somewhat further away from the barrier numerous broken portions of urns were seen on the floor of the passage, mixed with earth, black mud, and fragments of bone.

As the small cists found superjacent to the roof of the chamber had been broken by the workmen, and their contents in great measure scattered about before they were seen by General Burroughs, their exact condition before they were disturbed cannot, unfortunately, be stated in greater detail than has already been given. The specimens sent to me for examination were collected from at least two of the three cists, and in large part consisted of numerous fragments of bone, which from their greyish-white appearance, with, in some specimens, blackening of the cancellated tissue, and less frequently of the compact shell of the bone, had obviously been incinerated. Sometimes they were contorted, and had cracks extending into their substance. When struck, they had a metallic ring and were almost devoid of animal matter. As a rule, the fragments were so small as to make it impossible to state in most cases which bones of  the skeleton they had been parts of, though many of them were, without any doubt, from the long bones of the limbs; two specimens were, from their size and markings, obviously sections of the thigh-bones, two others were parts of ribs, another was a portion of a vertebra, several flat fragments had belonged to bones of the head, and the terminal phalanx of one of the fingers was also fairly well preserved. They were undoubtedly human bones from an adult, or possibly more than one full-grown person. A fragment of the dentary border of an upper jaw-bone was also recognised, which, from the small size of the alveoli for the lodgement of the fangs of the teeth, was apparently that of a child.

Many of the fragments of bone were attached to or even embedded in nodular masses of hard vitrified slag, the surface of which not unfrequently was smooth and iridescent. Some of the nodules were broken across and found to be hollow in the interior, as if from the presence of air cavities. From their appearance one was led to think that during the cremation of the bodies, so intense a heat had been generated that a slag had been produced, which had in many instances fused with the bones. Through the courtesy of Dr Leonard Dobbin, of the Chemical Laboratory in the University, an analysis of the slag has been made. It consisted of aluminium, calcium, magnesium, with small quantities of iron and potassium, and the salt radicals of phosphoric and silicic acids. As it required a bright yellowish heat to fuse the slag, it had obviously been originally produced at a high temperature.

Numerous fragments of broken pottery were mingled with the bones, so that the opinion formed by General Burroughs, that each cist had contained an urn, was without doubt correct. There can, I think, be little question that after cremation the incinerated bones had been deposited in an urn, which had been placed mouth downwards on a flat stone on the earthen floor of a cist of a size about sufficient to accommodate it. These cists were therefore cremation cists, and quite different in character from the short cists so frequently found in Scotland, in which an uncremated body had been buried in the bent posture. The urns had been broken into such small fragments that a restoration was impossible. The paste was unglazed and of a moderately coarse texture, and the outer surface was a light brick colour. Even the small fragments were proportionately heavy, so that there was probably a considerable percentage of iron in the clay which had been used to form the urn. I did not see incised lines on any of the fragments from the cremation cists.

In addition to the remains obtained from the cremation cists, General Burroughs forwarded to me objects lying in the underground chamber and the passage leading out of it.

As stated in the previous description, unburnt human skeletons were found in the chamber, one of which was bent upon itself, so that the chamber had obviously been used as a place of sepulture for unburnt bodies. It is greatly to be regretted that the bones which I received were so much broken, and the fragments, as a rule, were so small that it was impossible to reconstruct either the long bones or a skull. Fragments of at least five adult femora were recognised, which represented three individuals; portions of tibiae, fibulae, and an astragalus and a clavicle were also fairly well preserved. The skull was that of an adult, but from its fragmentary state it is not possible to say whether the proportions were dolichocephalic or brachycephalic. The left half of the lower jaw was preserved, and the true molar teeth were all in place and worn flat by use. From the slenderness of the clavicle and the comparatively feeble muscular ridges on some of the long bones, I am disposed to think that at least one of the skeletons had been that of a woman.

The upper ends of two tibiae, though imperfect, showed distinctly the retroversion of the head of that bone which has so frequently been observed in the tibiae from Neolithic and Bronze Age interments, and the broken shafts had a moderate amount of platyknemia. In only one femur was the upper third of the shaft sufficiently entire to enable me to recognise the antero-posterior flattening known as platymery, a condition frequently seen in skeletons from these interments.

Fragments of bone obtained from the long passage were from one or more skeletons which had been cremated. The fragments had characters similar to those described from the cremation cists situated on the roof of the underground chamber. They were mingled with nodules of slag like those already described. There was no difficulty in recognising the human character of some of the incinerated fragments.

The pottery found in the passage was-formed of a very coarse paste. The largest fragment sent to me, 4½ inches in one direction by 3 inches in another, and about 1 inch in thickness, was obviously a portion of the base of an urn, without doubt a cinerary urn of some magnitude. Some other fragments (figs. 3, 4) in the possession of General Traill Burroughs showed the obliquely incised lines which are so common a decorative feature of this primitive pottery.

Both in the chamber and its passage stones were found which in part had fallen in during the excavation, and were of no archaeological interest. One stone has, however, attracted my attention. It is a flake, apparently, of sandstone, attenuated at one end into a sort of handle, and expanded at the other into a hammer-like head. Its length is 10½ inches and its greatest width 6¾ inches. The margins of the part which might have been used as a handle were comparatively smooth, and a hollow in one margin readily accommodated the thumb when it was grasped by the hand. It did not show any marks of chipping, as if made artificially, but was probably a natural flake, of convenient shape to be used as a tool.

Extracted from
The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,
Volume 37, pp. 73-82 1902-03

Available in the Orkney Room at Orkney Library & Archive



The records for Nearhouse, or Nears as it is better known, go back centuries with the first known tenant listed there as John Sabiston in 1654. There is a large gap in the Rousay records until they reveal Rowland Craigie farming the land there from 1785 to 1796. The next tenant was William Craigie (Rowland’s son, born in February 1785) from 1820 to 1823, and in 1829 Magnus Marwick and his wife Rebecca Craigie (Rowland’s daughter) were in residence. In 1841 Malcolm Corsie took over the land, and between then and the time he died, in 1877, the rent increased from £30 to £60. His widow Isabella Louttit remained and farmed the 60 acres arable, while stock grazed on the 150 acres in pasture. In 1888 Robert Mainland took over the land, still paying rent of £60, but with the 75 acres of Gurnadee grazings added to the farm’s quota. Between 1903 and 1932 Thomas Inkster farmed the land at Nears, and it was in 1932 that Robert Mainland bought the farm, his son John taking over after his death in 1951, and his son Robert taking over from him.

The old two-storey farmhouse of Nears

Let us go back to [almost] the beginning, and find out more about the folk at Nears through the ages.

Rowland Craigie was married to Janet Craigie, and they had three children: William, born in February 1785; Janet, born in May 1796; and Rebecca, born c1791. Janet married James Robertson of Hunclett in 1825, and Rebecca married a later tenant of Nears, Magnus Marwick [born 1795]. More on them below.

Magnus Marwick of Nears was born about 1760. He married Christy Craigie and they had five children all born at Nears: Rowland (1782-1859); Barbara (1782-1872); Isabel (1789-1841); Janet (1790-1867); and Magnus (1795-1879). It was this Magnus that married Rebecca Craigie, just mentioned above, and they had three children: Mary, born in October 1829; and twins William and Ann, born in April 1834.

Rowland Marwick [born 1782] married his first wife Anne Craigie in 1811 and they went on to have six children: Christian, born in October 1811 and went to Canada in 1854; Ann, who was born in July 1814; Magnus, born in September 1816 and went to Canada in 1854; Rebecca, born in October 1819; Mary, in December 1821; and Janet, who was born in May 1824. Anne Craigie died in 1825 and Rowland married his second wife Isabel Craigie on October 11th 1826. They had one child, James, who was born in August 1830. Rowland and family were on Wyre for the 1841 and 1851 census but were back at Nears, where he died in 1859. Isabel outlived him by 6 years. Christina and Magnus were in Canada by October 1854, having been allocated 50 acres of land, the north half of lot 33, Brant Township, Bruce County, Ontario. His cousin James Clouston farmed the southern half of lot 33. James was the son of David Clouston (weaver, living at Moan, Wasbister) and Janet Alexander (Barbara Marwick’s (sister of Rowland Marwick) daughter).

Photo of a painting of Nears by Edgar M Gibson, Kirkwall

Malcolm Corsie was born in November 1798. He was the son of Hugh Corsie and Christian Sinclair of Faraclett. He married Isabella Louttit, daughter of William Louttit and Isabella Craigie of Faraclett, later, Skaill, Westside, who, like Malcolm, was born in 1798. They had five children; John, who was born in September 1828; William, born in August 1830; James, in August 1832; Isabella, in April 1835; and George, who was born in 1839.

Robert Mainland, who took over Nears in 1888, was the son of Nicol Mainland of Cotafea, later Banks, Frotoft, and Margaret Louttit, Faraclett. He was born in February 1846, was christened Robert Dennison Mainland, and married Margaret Baikie of Birsay. Robert and Margaret left the farm, and it was then taken over by Thomas Inkster in 1903. Thomas was the son of Hugh Inkster, Ervadale, and his first wife Isabella Kirkness, Quoyostray. He was born when the family lived in Shetland, later moving back to Rousay, where they settled at Westness farm. Thomas’s wife was Isabel McKinlay, from Egilsay.

Tom Inkster, Nears; Rose Leonard [servant], Nears; David Craigie, Trumland; Mabel Sinclair, Banks; George Petrie, Wyre; May Turner; Tom Sinclair, Banks. c1928
Davidson Harrold, Rose Cottage, was employed as a farm servant at Nears

Another Robert Mainland was farming the land at Nears in 1932. Robert was the son of John Mainland, Bu, Wyre, later Westness, and Isabella Stevenson, Kirbist, Egilsay, and he was born in 1900. He married Lydia Mary [Edda] Mainland, daughter of John and Betsy Mainland, Cott, who was born in August 1902. They had three children: John, who was born in 1930; Sheila, in 1932; and Rhoda, born in 1936. Son John took over the running of Nears after his father passed away in 1951. He married Irene Watson of Carnoustie, and they had two children; Ingrid, born in 1966; and Robert, who was born in 1969 – and Nears is in his capable hands now.

Robert Mainland of Nears 1900-1951
Lydia Mary [Edda] Mainland, Cott, and her friend Maggie Grieve c1920

Robert and Edda’s daughter Sheila has been kind enough to
send me her memories of life at Nears which appear below.
My grateful thanks to Sheila and her son Graham Lyon,
Sandwick, for the text and their family photos – and to
Tommy Gibson who supplied all the others.

John Mainland, Bu, Wyre, and Isabella Stevenson, Kirbist, Egilsay, lived in Cubbie Roo, Rousay, after they married. They had five children: Robert b.1900 at Kirbist, Egilsay; John b.1901; Mary b.1902; and twins Jim and Emma Netta, born at Cubbie Roo.

John went to the fishing. In 1907 (?) John took over the tenancy of Westness with his brother-in-law Willie Stevenson. Willie later took over Garson Farm near Stromness.

The Family grew up at Westness and attended the Frotoft School, having to walk the three miles there and back every day.

After leaving school they all stayed home. The women folk doing the milking, butter and cheese making, hens to feed and baking and cooking for extra men coming in for meals.

The family were left in charge when their father died of a heart attack in 1923 and their mother in 1928.

In 1929 Robert married Edda (Lydia) Mainland, Cott, Frotoft.

John was born in 1930 at Westness, and Sheila in 1932 (born at Cott).

In 1932 Robert bought Nears from Tom Inkster and they moved in from Westness when Sheila was six months old and John was two. Rhoda was born in 1936 at Nears.

At that time they had two servant men (usually a boy and an older one) and a servant girl at Nears.

Hugh Marwick from Breek came over from Westness and Tom Inkster stayed on for six months. (Later Hugh was called up and writing from Ceylon saying how he was wishing he was still at Nears, eating Edda’s good oat bannocks).

As well as running the farm Robert and Edda took part in the social life in Rousay. Edda took an active role in the W.R.I. as secretary and president through the years and at the guild and church. Robert attended church faithfully, was an elder and session clark.

He was a J.P. and County Councillor for Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre until he died of a heart attack in January 1951 aged only fifty.

He was a very upright, good living and hard working man and we were told ‘a pillar of the community and would be a great loss’, as he was at home, a very sad time.

Robert Mainland c1930
Edda and Robert, with Sheila and John c1936

John, at only twenty, was left in charge but was lucky to have good men to help on the farm.

Sheila & Rhoda helped out too, after attending a course at Craibstone College, with the hen feeding, milking, cheese & butter making, singling turnips and building sheaves.

It was war years when we went to Frotoft school and had to carry gasmasks. I remember seeing planes swooping down on a target between Gairsay and Rendall. There were several mines came ashore below Nears which had to be defused and we were told to stay away from them. At Westness there were several bodies came ashore and were laid out on the couples in the byre until they were taken away to be buried.

At the time there were no tractors on the island and very few cars. On every farm was a stable with horse, numbers varied according to the size of farm. When the horse weren’t working they would often follow us feeding the hens, being very friendly and wanting a feed of oats out of the bucket.

Sheila, John, and Rhoda c1948
with their mother Edda in 1953

The barn at Nears was a distance from the house and steading. The mill engine was run by water from the dam which was fed by the burn from the hill. We often helped at the threshing time by pulling in the sheaves to the mill and forking away the straw.

I remember one year a boat was left in the dam and we enjoyed rowing back and forth over the water. In the winter time the dam would freeze over and we could walk or slide on it. Every winter had snow and we had great fun sledging down the steep road. Nears was a wonderful place to grow up with its hills to climb and the shore to do all things – climb rocks, bathe in the sea, gather wilks or go fishing.

John & Sheila would often cycle over to Westness and stay for the weekend. Uncle John would take us out for long walks while he was attending the sheep. He would show us different kinds of birds’ nests and their eggs out in Quandale, also The Lobust, Scabra Head and The Sinians were looked on. Then it was back to a table laden with newly baked bere bannocks, ovenscones, pancakes, homemade butter, cheese and new laid eggs or stewed chickens.

The old barn at Nears

One time we were walking out the middle road when the bull started snorting and coming towards us. Uncle Jim was there and got us under a brig for safety while he moved the bull. At the time a bull would only be on the bigger farms and they had to serve the visiting cows. It was the other way round with the horse and uncle Jim would visit other farms with the stallion.

At that time the blacksmiths were kept busy shoeing the many horses. The horses at Nears all had names such as Queen, Prince, Clyde and Jean. One time Rhoda went out to tell the ploughman to come in for tea. After unfastening (lousing) the horse Rhoda climbed on its back. The horse, startled, ran all the way back until it reached the stable door. Thankfully Rhoda bent down very flat on the horse’s back and all was well.

It would have been about 1949? when the first grey fergie arrived at Nears and the horse was made redundant.

Fred Kirkness playing pipes at the wedding of Hugh Lyon and Sheila Mainland – July 19th 1956
The wedding reception was held in the new barn at Nears

Around 1954-55 John decided to put up a new barn, It was built by Stanley Gibson and John Inkster. The new barn was waiting for a celebration and in 1956 Sheila and Hugh married in Trumland Church and held the reception in it. John and Irene also celebrated in the barn on their silver wedding anniversary in 1989. It was through Rhoda that John met his future wife. Rhoda left home to start a career in nursing at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Irene from Carnoustie started at the same time and often came home with Rhoda on holiday. From there the romance started and they married in 1964. John took his wife home to a recently modernised house. It had been gutted out the previous year and made from a two storey with two bedrooms upstairs to a single story and an extension wing. The house was wired for electricity and a modern stove installed, which heated the water and house. Edda then retired from the farm and bought Avils but often returned to babysit. Ingrid was born in 1966 and Robert in 1969. Another generation was growing up at Nears with their own stories.

A view of Nears today – from the deck of the Eynhallow, on its way to Tingwall

Blackhammer Cairn


by J. Graham Callander, LL.D., F.S.A.Scot., Director of the National Museum, and Walter G. Grant, F.S.A.Scot.

Before this cairn was excavated it was just an oblong heap of stones covered with a growth of grass and heather, more suggestive of the ruins of a little farmhouse than of what it turned out to be, one of the most interesting of the stalled chambered cairns so far excavated in Rousay. It stands on a small flat shelf on the steep hillside rising immediately above the north side of the road which runs round the island, at an elevation of 200 feet above sea-level, about 450 yards north-west of the steading on the farm of Nears. The mound measured 78 feet in length, 34 feet in breadth, and 5 feet in height. Just above it, on a higher terrace, are the foundations of an old house called Blackhammer, after which we have named the monument.

The cairn, which is oblong with rounded ends and slightly convex sides, measures 72½ feet in length and 27 feet in greatest breadth (Pl. V). The upper part of the monument had been taken away to provide building material, so that its general height at present is about 5 feet (fig. 1). Its main axis runs about west by north and east by south.

When the outer face of the monument was laid bare it was found to be greatly reduced in height; at the east end it was 1 foot 8 inches high, at the west end from 2 feet to 2 feet 3 inches, along the north side generally 1 foot 6 inches, but near the east end only 6 inches; on the south side, from 2 feet to 2 feet 6 inches remained, rising to 3 feet 6 inches towards the west end. But, though only a fragment of what it must have been originally, it displayed features that had never been noted before in any Scottish burial cairn. One peculiarity was that no signs of an entrance passage into the burial chamber could be found, although this was carefully searched for – however, it was discovered later when the burial chamber was examined; another peculiarity was the way in which the stones had been laid – it was quite different from anything hitherto recorded.

The foundation course of the outer wall consists of a single row of flag-stones which project a distance of 3 inches from its face, so as to form a plinth similar to that seen in the stalled cairn, the Knowe of Yarso, which lies only 1000 yards to the west. For a short distance at the ends of the cairn the stones are laid horizontally, in the ordinary way, above the foundation, but along the sides the face of the wall shows a unique method of building. Though the stones are still laid on their flat faces, they are set not horizontally, but obliquely, forming a series of stretchers slanting down from right to left, and the adjoining ones from left to right, the result being a design of alternate hatched triangles (fig. 2) which recalls the decoration seen on some of the pottery found in the Unstan cairn. As in other stalled cairns which have been excavated in Rousay, and in the horned cairns examined in Caithness, the wall is double, the inner part being faced with ordinary building. This inner face has been traced at various places round the cairn and still maintains a height up to 3 feet 9 inches above the foundation; the interval between it and the outer face varies from 3 feet to 5 feet 4 inches on the sides, and 7 feet 3 inches at the west end, where there is a vacancy between the outer part of the wall and the face of the inner part.

As we have seen, when the outer wall was cleared of fallen material, no trace of the entrance passage could be detected, but this was discovered later on when the debris which filled the burial chamber was removed. It is placed on the south side of the monument and runs into the third compartment of the chamber from the east end. The reason that its mouth could not be found was that it had been carefully sealed up by a wall 5 feet thick, in the building of which care had been taken to lay most of the stones in alignment with the slanting stones of the outer face of the cairn wall (fig. 3); the inner face of this packing is rather roughly built, and has two rudely made steps (fig. 4) at the foot. The passage is 9 feet 9 inches long and 2 feet 6 inches wide. Its walls are now no more than 3 feet 6 inches high, the upper part, together with the lintels with which it was roofed, having been removed.

The burial chamber or gallery measures 42 feet 6 inches in length and from 4 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 6 inches in width, while the present height of the walls ranges from 2 feet 1 inch to 5 feet 1 inch on the south, and from 3 feet 2 inches to 4 feet 10 inches on the north side. The gallery is divided into seven compartments by upright divisional slabs set on end, in pairs opposite each other, and bonded into the lateral walls, leaving a space between the inner edges to allow passing from one cell to another, so that there are seven small stalls on each side (fig. 5). Four of the divisional slabs have been dragged out, two from both sides of the stall on the north side of compartment No. 5, and two from the stall on the south side of compartment No. 4. The upright divisional stones are dressed roughly flat on the top, and are from 2 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 11 inches high on the north, and from 3 feet 6 inches to 4 feet 6 inches on the south side. Their thickness varies from 2 inches to 8 inches and the extent of their projection from the walls from 14 inches to 1 foot 11 inches.

The stalls between the uprights range from 4 feet 9 inches to 5 feet 10 inches in width. The ends of the chamber are not finished by building, but terminate in a large slab set on end, that on the east being 4 feet high by 3 feet 5 inches broad, and that on the west 5 feet 3 inches high by 4 feet 9 inches broad. In the interior are two masses of later masonry of quite uncertain purpose and period. The first, which has been inserted in the angle formed by the north wall of the chamber and the slab dividing the second and third stalls, and almost opposite the entrance, is a buttress, measuring 2 feet 6 inches by 1 foot 10 inches by 2 feet 10 inches in height (fig. 5: 1). The second is a very rude piece of masonry, the building of which possibly accounts for the removal of the third and fourth divisional flags on the south, and of the fourth on the north side of the chamber. It springs from the south wall just west of the entrance, and follows an ogee curve obliquely across the chamber into the north side of the fifth stall from the east (fig. 5: 2). The faces are broken down except for a length of about 4 feet 6 inches on the north side, where it still remains 3 feet high.

We cannot suggest what these two intrusive buildings were meant for, nor can we say anything very definite about their date.

This is the second chambered cairn in Rousay to have the mouth deliberately closed, and that by careful building – the other being the Midhowe Cairn. In the latter, however, there were two sealing walls, one built in the mouth of the entrance passage and the other in its inner end. A third Orkney example, on the Calf of Eday, was brought to the notice of the Society at our last meeting, but in this case the whole of the passage was blocked up, the stone being carefully built in. These three cairns, it will be noted, are all of the stalled variety, but in the two others of this type excavated by us, the Knowe of Yarso and the Knowe of Ramsay, there were no indications that they had been sealed up. This peculiarity has not been noted in any of the other chambered cairns of Orkney and only in one of those in Caithness. This was in the large round cairn at Camster, where Dr Anderson found the entrance passage, 20 feet in length, completely filled with a packing of stones which “appeared to have been introduced purposely.”

A considerable number of relics were found amongst the debris – the fallen stones and earth – with which the burial chamber was encumbered. These consisted chiefly of animal bones, which were generally mixed through the debris, but they were most numerous at the eastern end of the gallery. Very few were found in the opposite end west of the entrance. In all likelihood this mixing had taken place when the upper parts of the monument were being removed in late times, and when the larger stones were being dragged out. We found that the same thing had occurred when the stalled cairn, the Knowe of Yarso, was being despoiled. The result was that stratification was not to be expected, except, perhaps, at the floor level.

Amongst the bones scattered throughout the debris at the upper levels and chiefly in cell No. 1 were those of sheep, ox, red deer, pink-footed goose, and cormorant. In the bottom layer were the remains of sheep, ox, red deer, and gannet. Many of the bones showed signs of burning or scorching.

At the lowest level were found, in addition to animal bones, the much decayed and scanty fragments of two adult male skeletons, the greater part of a wide-mouthed shallow round-based urn (fig. 6), a finely made flint knife which had passed through the flames, as it was burnt white and splintered into pieces (fig. 7), and two scrapers and five splinters of flint. A stone axe (fig. 8), was also discovered at the same level.

The urn, which was of grey colour, was so cracked and crumbly that it was impossible to restore it. The greater part lay in a hollow in the floor of cell No. 6, 2 feet from the south wall, and the same distance from the divisional slab on the east side; the remainder of the vessel lay near the centre of the cell. The urn had measured about 8 inches in diameter at the mouth, and the wall between the brim and carinated moulding where it turns into the round base measures 1⅝   inch in height. This part is decorated by five horizontal lines of pear-shaped impressions. The thickness of the rounded bottom is 5/16 inch. The flint knife after being put together again was found to be leaf-shaped and carefully dressed on the upper face, the under side being plain. It measures 3⅜ inches in length, 11/16 inch in breadth, and 9/32 inch in thickness. The two scrapers and five splinters of flint, of which four were calcined, were found at the lowest level in cells Nos. 1 and 3. One of the scrapers and a slightly worked splinter lay under the step behind the piece of walling which closed the mouth of the entrance passage. The stone axe, which measured 39/16 inches long, 2⅛ inches broad, and ⅞ inch thick, was found about 6 inches above the floor, 1 foot out from the south-west corner of cell No. 1, animal bones being found above and below it.

Although Dr Anderson had drawn special attention to the double outer walls which he had discovered in the horned cairns of Caithness, and had remarked on the concentric circular walls in some of the chambered cairns of Orkney, it is doubtful if archaeologists had really visualised what finely built structures these monuments were. It has only been during the last four years, after the long, stalled cairns on Rousay, and the circular cairns at Unstan and on Wideford Hill, were stripped of the accumulations of soil and fallen debris with which they were encumbered, that it has been realised what striking monuments they must have been – that instead of consisting of conical mounds of stone piled up over the burial chambers they were elaborately constructed houses for the dead incorporating distinctive, ornamental, architectural features. In the horned cairns of Caithness and in the round cairns and stalled cairn, the Knowe of Ramsay, in Orkney, the outer wall shows orthodox building, with the stones laid on bed, but in the long, stalled Midhowe, Yarso, and Blackhammer cairns the face of the wall is built so as to display such ornamented designs as those seen in fig. 9.

The long, stalled cairns of Rousay and other Orkney islands have generally been so much despoiled that we have no idea of what their original height was, and we can only imagine how the roofs were finished off. They must have been distinctly higher than the tallest of the divisional slabs between the stalls, which in the case of the Midhowe Cairn was 7 feet 6 inches. As for the form of the roof, it would naturally be carried up to form a curved top with the stones being laid on the slant to throw off rain-water. In the round cairn on Wideford Hill, which has three concentric walls, even though it is greatly disturbed on the top, the stones have been laid slanting downwards towards the outside.

The opinion has been expressed that these long cairns had been finished off by heaping soil over them, but surely no people were going to erect buildings with such striking architectural features with the intention of hiding them under a screen of soil. If any argument against this is necessary it has only to be noted that the Knowe of Yarso is built practically parallel to the edge of a ragged cliff, too close to it in places to provide a wide enough foundation for a covering of soil.


by Margery I Platt, M.Sc., Royal Scottish Museum.

The animal remains from Blackhammer constitute fragments of the skeletons of domestic species principally, although relics of the Red Deer (Corvus elaphus, L.) are also present, together with a few bones from birds of the sea common in these islands. In most cases the fragments are small and too broken to classify with certainty. Ribs of domestic stock are most numerous, and the relics throughout show evidence of fire. Sheep remains predominate, whilst oxen and red deer are represented in equal proportions.

The bones submitted appear to be derived from two layers designated “Top” and “Bottom” Layers, and the various species found in each of these are cited in order of their numerical importance. Most of the bones were found in cells Nos. 1 and 2, the larger number being found in the former.

 Top Layer.

Sheep. – Many lower jaws with teeth indicate sheep of a large size. No horn-cores occur, and therefore it is impossible to determine the breed. From the lower jaws it is possible to estimate the number of animals in this section. There are six right mandibles with full adult dentition, four left ones from immature sheep, whilst twelve permanent lower molars found singly make it certain that at least six other sheep were present. In all, this indicates a minimum of sixteen individuals, of which one-quarter are immature. Limb bones and ribs, all fragmentary, complete the relics of this species.

Ox. – In addition to a fragmentary scapula and terminal phalange, the whole of the bovine remains comprise broken pieces of rib. It is therefore quite impossible to ascertain the breed represented or the actual numbers present.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). – The remains of this species, as in the case of the ox, are almost entirely composed of fragmentary ribs. They vary in size and thickness, indicating that young and old deer occur, but no estimate of their number can be given. There is a single piece of antler of medium size.

Birds. – The bird relics include the wing-bone of a pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus, Baillon) and the pelvis of a cormorant (Phala-crocorax c. carbo (L.)).

Chamber 1 – Bottom Layer.

Sheep. – Sheep remains in this section are again the most plentiful. Fragments of left mandibles prove the presence of at least eight sheep. All the dentitions were adult. Other skeletal remains of this kind indicated full-grown sheep of large size, although evidence of the actual breed could not be found.

Ox. – Bovine relics were not so numerous as sheep. Fragments of ribs, limb bones, and pelvis composed the majority of the remains. No definite breed, in the absence of horn-cores, could be recognised.

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus). – The remains of this species were as equally numerous as those of the ox. Fragments of ribs were again plentiful. A few ulnae, a good sacrum, and three pelvic bones also occurred. In no instance was there any indication that the deer differed in size from those of the present day.

Bird. – Two pieces of the wing-bone of a Gannet (Sula bassana) were the sole avian relics at this level.


by Professor Alexander Low, M.D., F.S.A.Scot.

Bones found in Chamber No. 7.

The fragmentary human remains include: Supraorbital part of frontal bone with marked ridges; some 6 pieces of rather thick parietal bone; pieces of left upper and lower jaws with 2 molars and 2 premolars in upper jaw and 2 molars and 1 premolar in lower jaw, crowns much worn down, but powerful teeth; fragments of right side of male pelvis; fragments of right and left femur. One adult male skeleton.

Bones found in Entrance.

The only skull-bone represented is a fragmentary lower jaw and some teeth; 13 fragmentary vertebrae; left half of a pelvis probably male, and pieces of sacrum; some 16 fragmentary ribs, amongst which can be identified a right first and a second left; fragments of right and left scapula; right and left clavicle; fragments of left humerus and of right and left radius; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th metacarpals of right hand and 4 proximal phalanges; upper two-thirds of right femur; pieces of shafts of right and left tibia; 2 pieces of shafts of fibula and lower third of a right fibula; fragmentary talus and os calcis. Numerous fragments but no duplication. One adult male skeleton.

Extracted from
The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,
Volume 71, March 8th 1937 pp. 297-308

Available in the Orkney Room at Orkney Library & Archive




Hunclett – or ‘Hooklet’ as it is pronounced – was first mentioned in the old Orkney Rentals, dating back to 1492 with subsequent volumes ranging through the 1500s. In those days it was known as Ovir [or Upper] and Nether Howclet, the former, according to Hugh Marwick, is represented by the Hunclett we know today, and the latter being identified by the present farm of Nears, or Nearhouse – a name which is simply a running together of an older ‘Nether-hus,’ i.e. of Hunclett tunship. These rentals were primarily tax-rolls, which showed the various skats or taxes due to the Earls or Bishops from each farm or tunship, and in addition, in the case of property lands belonging to the earldom or bishopric, the annual rents due from the tenants in occupation. Orkney lands were valued in terms of early Norse money – as ouncelands and pennylands. The old Norse silver mark was sub-divided into 8 ounces and in Orkney the ounce was divided again into 18 pennies. Thus we find Orkney lands valued as urislands [i.e. ounce-lands) and pennylands – 1 urisland consisting of 18 pennylands. Trumland was a two-penny land, while Nether Howclet was a four-penny land, and Ovir Howclet a three-penny land – the three together amounting to a second half-urisland.

Hunclett was tenanted by Hugh Craigie in 1734 and by Hugh Robertson in 1799. The land, 19 acres arable and 42 acres pasture, was farmed by 40-year-old James Robertson in the 1840’s. He was born in March 1799 and was the son of Hugh Robertson and Christian Sinclair. In February 1825 he married Janet Craigie, the daughter of Rowland and Janet Craigie of Nears, who was born in 1796, and they had six children: James, born in December 1825; Mary, born in October 1827; Margaret, in September 1830; John, in January 1832; another James, who was born in July 1835; and William, born in 1838. At this time James was paying £8 rent, which rose to £16 in 1862 and £30 in 1877.

James Robertson and his wife Jane with three of their daughters, Maggie, Mary, and Lydia Ann

By 1881, son James [born 1835] was head of the household at Hunclett. For a number of years he’d been at the fishing, but now he was farming the 62 acres of land. In February 1869 he married Jane Walker Marwick, the daughter of Alexander Marwick and Isabella Gibson of Corse, and they had six children, five girls and one boy: Isabella was born in 1869; Mary, in 1872; Hannah, in 1876; James, in 1879; Maggie, in 1882; and Lydia Ann, in 1886.

Sisters: Hannah [standing] and Bella Robertson
Maggie, who married John Robertson, Longhope
James and Jean Robertson with their children, [back from left]
Lydia Ann, Hannah, Mary, and James,
with Bella [front, left], and Maggie [right]

James’ wife Jane died in 1909 at the age of 65, and was interred in St Mary’s, the Westside kirkyard. James himself died in Kirkwall in 1913, in his 78th year, and was laid to rest in St Magnus Cathedral kirkyard. By that time Hunclett had passed into the hands of William Low and his wife Betsy. William, son of William Low and Janet Mainland of Castlehill, was born in 1868. He married Betsy McKinlay of Sound, Egilsay, and they had a daughter, Lily, who was born in 1898.

Rose Ida Gibson
Rose Ida Gibson, standing next to her friend Estelle Leonard, Cruannie, who married Orphir blacksmith John Corsie
William Low

Alexander Craigie of Turbitail and his wife Rose Ida Gibson were later occupants of Hunclett. Alexander, born in 1882, was the son of Magnus Craigie and Ellen Couper of Falquoy, later Pliverha’, and he married Rose Ida, daughter of David Gibson and Ann Sinclair latterly of Hullion. They had one son, Douglas, who was born in 1914.

Minnie Reid, Tratland, and Douglas Craigie, Hunclett, with two young visitors
Alexander Craigie, Hunclett, July 1949
Time for a cigarette break while ploughing with a Fordson tractor at Hunclett

All photos from the Tommy Gibson collection

[Reference was made to Hugh Marwick’s Place Names of Rousay in the opening paragraph]


Castlehill, Irso, Quoyjenny, Crody, Germount

All that remains of Castlehill today – high on the hill above the old Frotoft schoolhouse

Castlehill in Frotoft consisted of three houses, built by James Low for Nearhouse tenant Malcolm Corsie at no cost to the island’s estate in about 1840. Hereabouts was an adjacent field named Ulie Bogie. According to Hugh Marwick in his Place-Names of Rousay the field was perhaps so-named due to its resemblance to the shape of a ulie bogie, a skin vessel for containing oil. The first residents on record here, according to the 1841 census, were 35-year-old Ann Mainland, and 75-year-old pauper Cirstan Sinclair.

At this time James Low lived in one of the houses at Irso with his wife Christina Hourston of Harray and their 4-month-old daughter Barbara. His parents and siblings occupied another house on the same site, but it was not long before the families moved to other premises.

In 1851 James’s father William Low was a seventy-year-old agricultural labourer and lived at Castlehill with his wife Barbara Marwick and their three sons, 31-year-old William and 26-year-old Hugh who earned their living as shoemakers, and 16-year-old John who was still at school. This family lived at Grinnabreck on the Westside before moving to Irso.

James and his ever-growing family had moved to Quoyjenny, a now-vanished house just above Hunclett. He and Christina had six children: Barbara, born in 1841; Jemima, in 1843; James, who was born in October 1848; Margaret, in 1850; William, in March 1852; and Mary, who was born in April 1854.

Toomal is a generic name, surviving as a place-name for a field, and an example of this is the Toomal o’ Quoyjenny. In the old days of the run-rig system, a toomal was the name for a patch of ground which was not shared in common with the rest of a tunship, but was the perpetual perquisite of an individual house in the tunship. Each tunship house had its own toomal, and as such, it received the best of the available manure, and thus became especially fertile.

Castlehill, back in the days when it was occupied.

By the time the census of 1871 was carried out William Low had passed away. Brothers William and Hugh had married, though 51-year-old William was already a widower, his wife Janet Mainland of Crusday having passed away in 1867. He lived at Castlehill with his children Margaret, Jessie, and William, as did his brother Hugh and his 28-year-old wife Ann, who was a midwife. They had two children, Johanna and Hugh. The youngest of the Low brothers John, now 36 years of age was also making a living as a shoemaker there, and their mother Barbara, then in her 76th year, made ends meet by knitting stockings.

Come the census of 1881, shoemaker brothers William and John still lived and worked at Castlehill, but their brother Hugh and his family had emigrated to America. James by that time was in his 64th year and a widower himself. He had moved out of Quoyjenny and was living at ‘Low’s House’ in Frotoft with 30-year-old daughter Margaret and her 26-year-old sister Mary. In 1873 Mary married James Corsie, son of Malcolm Corsie and Isabella Louttit of Nears, but he died in Kirkwall at the age of 42 – his son James Sinclair Corsie being born six months after the father’s death.

A photo of the ruins of Irso, taken in 1994 – with Nears down the hill and below the road

Quoyjenny [spelled Curjinny in the census return] at this time was occupied by 62-year-old Rebecca Marwick and her 56-year-old sister Janet, both unmarried, and both employed as agricultural labourers. They were the daughters of Rowland Marwick and Anne Craigie of Nears. It was not long after this that Quoyjenny was demolished.

At the turn of the century former dressmaker Margaret Low had moved from Low’s House and was boarding at Grain, Wasbister, with Hugh and Isabella Marwick and their family. James Low, by then 84 years of age, had moved with his daughter Mary, living at Lower Banks in Frotoft [where Yorville is today]. That left John Low, then a 66-year-old retired shoemaker, and Margaret M Corsie, a 37-year-old widowed dressmaker living under separate roofs at Castlehill. Margaret was William and Janet Low’s daughter, and had married William Corsie of Lower Crusday, but he died in 1899 at the age of 42.

Section of the Ordnance Survey map of 1879.

Other vanished houses in this vicinity were Crody and Germount.

Crody was a dwelling close to Castlehill and Germount above Nears in Frotoft, and its first known occupant was James Costie in 1829. In 1841, Janet Marwick, described in the census as a pauper, and her 12-year-old son John lived there. She was the daughter of Rowland Marwick and Anne Craigie of Nears and was born on May 20th 1824. She and her elder sister Rebecca lived at nearby Quoyjenny in 1881, and in 1891 Janet was back at Crody with another elder sister, Mary.

Germount was an old house above Nears in Frotoft, alternatively known as Cathole. In 1841, 25-year-old straw plaiter Ann Marwick lived there, as did 65-year-old pauper Barbara Craigie. Another tenant was William Logie, a 45-year-old farmer, who lived there with wife Janet and eight-year-old son William. Living with them was Cirstan Craigie, a 90-year-old pauper.

In 1851 Barbara Craigie still lived at Germount, but the census put her age at 82 and she was employed as a spinner of wool. The only other tenant there then was Hugh Mainland, a 29-year-old agricultural labourer and fisherman. He was the son of William and Sicilia Mainland of Banks at Sourin, born on April 15th 1822. He married Margaret Craigie of Watten, Egilsay, and they had three children; Mary, born in 1847, John, born in 1851, and Eliza Craigie, who was born in 1855, but she died at the age of six.

The house was spelt Geramount in the census of 1861, and was occupied by 30-year-old ploughman William Corsie and his family. He was the son of Malcolm Corsie and Isabella Louttit of Nears, born on August 24th 1830. In 1853 he married 20-year-old Ann Leonard, daughter of Peter Leonard and Isobel McKinlay of Digro. Between then and 1860 they had five children; Margaret, Annie, William, Malcolm, and James.

William earned his living as a master tailor, and between 1862 and 1877 he and Ann had produced another eight children; Peter, George, John, Charles, Frederick, Jemima, Jessie and Isabella – a grand total of thirteen offspring.

By 1891 the Corsie family had moved to Brendale and ‘Garmount’ had a new tenant. He was James Marwick, a 66-year-old general labourer. He was the son of James Marwick and Christian Groundwater, and was born on December 13th 1824. He married Eliza Allan, of Greentoft, Eday, in 1854, and between 1856 and 1876 they raised a family of eight children: James Groundwater, Mary Mainland, Jemima Elizabeth, John Craigie, Charles, Eliza, Isabella, and Maggie Ann.



Crusday, Upper, Mid, and Nether, were dwellings situated on the hill slope above the public school at Frotoft.

David Mainland was one of three brothers who were born in Frotoft, in 1770 or thereabouts but whose parents are not on record, the other brothers being William and Alexander, and they lived at Tratland. William featured in the recent page regarding his ‘Trafalgar Medal.’

Mid Crusday – as it looked through the lens of Tommy Gibson’s camera in 1994

David married Margaret Sinclair and between 1795 and 1808 they had eight children; William, who was born in January 1795; Mary, in June 1796; Robert, born in May 1798; Barbara was born in December 1799; James, in June 1802; Ann, in November 1804; Jean, who was born in October 1806; and finally David, born in May 1808. It is evident David’s wife Margaret passed away at the time of, or soon after the birth of the youngest child.

In 1811 David married Marion Mainland of Cotafea and between 1812 and 1821 they had four children; Alexander, born in September 1812; Hugh, in January 1814; John, who was born in March 1819; and lastly Betty, in April 1821. Alexander, and either Robert or James, his older step-brothers, were drowned off Scabra Head with James Sinclair of Newhouse in 1825. It was James’ son, also called James, who drowned when the Rousay post-boat capsized in Eynhallow sound in 1893.

The census of 1841 records David Mainland as a retired 70-year-old farmer. He had moved from Tratland, and was living at Upper Crusday with wife Marion and their 35-year-old son John, who was employed as a carpenter.

David Mainland’s younger brother Alexander and his family lived at Lower Crusday in 1841. Alexander was a 55-year-old farmer, and was married to Janet Kirkness, daughter of James Kirkness and Ann Harrold of Wyre, who was born in 1810. A daughter Janet was born on October 13th 1836, and on February 23rd 1839 they became the proud parents of triplets, James, Margaret, and John. Another son William was born on July 30th 1841.

Alexander Corsie and his family were the occupants of Nether Crusday. In 1851 Alexander was a 32-year-old carpenter. He was married to Ann Sinclair, daughter of John Sinclair and Magdalene Craigie of Tratland, born on February 20th 1817, and they had three children, Isabel, John, and William.

Come the census of 1861 we find David and Marion Mainland’s son John living at Upper Crusday. By this time 42-year-old boat builder John was married to Lydia Mowat of Scowan, daughter of John Mowat and Isabel Yorston, who was born in 1829. They had nine children; Hugh, born in February1854; John, in September 1855; Mary, in October 1857; Jane Hughina, in March 1860; Janet, born in October 1862; Duncan, in May 1865; Betsy Craigie, in February 1867; Isabella, in August 1869; and lastly Lydia Ann, who was born in June 1873.

Janet Mainland, born 1862…..
…..and her sisters Lydia Ann, and Isabella

Living at Mid Crusday at this time was another John Mainland, with his widowed mother Janet [wife of the late Alexander Mainland], and his sister Janet who earned her living as a dressmaker. In 1865 John married Margaret Craigie, daughter of  Magnus and Christie Craigie of House-finzie, Sourin, and they had two children, Mary and John Corsie. John married again – this time to Mary, the daughter of Hugh Gibson and Margaret Harcus, who was born in December 1835 when they were living at Geo, Westness. They had no offspring, and were living at Ervadale in 1891.

The 1891 census tells us Alexander Corsie, and his wife and son, were still living at ‘Crusdy’. Farmer/wheelwright and U.P. church officer Alexander was 73 years of age at that time; his wife Ann was 74, and their son William was a 34-year-old joiner. William later married Margaret Low, Irso, who was born in 1857, and they are pictured below.

Living at Mid-Crusdy was James Harrold, a 71-year-old mason and shoemaker, and his 52-year-old wife Margaret. James was the son of Alexander and Marabell Harrold of Wyre, later Boray, Gairsay. His first wife was Bella Gibson, daughter of Hugh Gibson of Burness and Janet Marwick of Cogar, and she was born in August 1821 when they were living at Newark. Bella and James had four children; Ann, Margaret, John, and James. Then James married Margaret Mainland of Crusday [one of the triplets].

Ten years on [1901] and James and Margaret had grandson James living with them. At that time he was a 19-year-old joiner apprentice. New folk at Crusday though. Rural postrunner, 38-year-old Donald Baillie Mackay from ‘Gairsay, Evie & Rendall’ was in residence with his new wife Mary Reid Mainland, then 28 years of age. She was the daughter of John Mainland, Cotafea, and Mary Reid, Wasdale. In his latter years John lived with Mary and Donald at Crusday. Donald, or Danny as he was known, was a postman in Rousay for many years, passing away in October 1943 and interred in the Brinian kirkyard.

Mary Reid Mainland
Danny Mackay
Danny, about to set off on his delivery round
Making a delivery at the Sourin Manse in the 1920s
Mary and Danny, relaxing in the garden at Crusday
Mary sees Danny off from the doorway of Crusday as he sets off on another delivery

[All the above photos are from the Tommy Gibson collection]

This ornate clock was given to Danny Mackay on his retirement as postman. The inscription reads:

In recognition of his long and faithful services as Postman.
30th March1923.

[Photo courtesy of Graham Lyon, Sandwick]