Pow, Faraclett, & Scockness


The earliest mention of Pow is in an early rental of 1743-44, its occupant at that time being David Craigie. It is not until the census of 1841 that names and dates become clearer, with John Gibson and his family living at and working on the surrounding land at Pow, located south-west of the farm of Faraclett.

John earned his living as a farmer and fisherman. He was born on December 14th 1808, and he was married to Rebekkah Stevenson, daughter of James Stevenson and Rebekkah Sinclair, who was born in Stronsay on August 28th 1814. Between 1835 and 1854 they had eight children: James was born in August 1835; Rebecca, in January 1837; Margaret, in May 1839; Christina, in June 1841; John, in October 1843; Anne, in December 1846; Robina, in October 1850; and William, who was born in May 1854 – the same year that his father John died, at the age of 45.

In Sockness kirkyard there is a headstone to John Gibson of Pow. He died in his boat while out fishing on October 1st 1854, possibly of a heart attack. His son, James, would not set foot in a boat after his father’s death.

Rebekah and her children continued to farm the 28 acres of land at Pow for many years, oldest son James eventually becoming head of the household. The rent had increased over the years from £6.12s., to £11 in 1857, and £12 13s. between 1863 and 1878. In 1881 James was paying £18 a year rent, but this was reduced by the Crofters Commission in 1888 to £12 5s.

In 1881 James’ sister Anne married Stronsay born John Elphinstone. They had a family of three children: Mary Stevenson, born in 1882; John, in 1883; and Rebecca Jane, who was born in 1887. They all lived with James at Pow, though he remained unmarried all his life.

Pow, above the houses of Lopness and Sailan to the left, Hurtiso in the centre, and Breck to the right
In 1880 Pow was described as being ‘a farm house and steading situate at 22 chains north of Breck. It is built of stone, thatched. one storey high, and is in good repair.’

Later occupants of Pow were Hugh Grieve and his wife Janet Sinclair Mainland. Hugh was the son of William Leonard Grieve, Whiteha’, and Christina Craigie, Fa’doon, and was born on August 23rd 1908. Janet was the daughter of Hugh Mainland, Hurtiso, and Alice Gibson Craigie, Falquoy, and she was born in 1912. They were married in 1933 and raised a family of five children between 1936 and 1949.

The Grieves moved to Saviskaill, and Pow was later occupied by Bobby Gillespie and his family between 1940 and 1972. Robert William Gillespie was born in Wyre in 1918, and was married to Kathleen Christine Munro, daughter of Alexander James Munro, Old School, and Agnes Lyon, Ervadale.

Above left – Wedding Day 1939: Bobby Gillespie and Kathleen Munro, with best man Lionel Munro, and bridesmaid Violet Gillespie. In the centre are three of the Gillespie brothers, Leslie, Kenneth, & George, Pow. 1954.  To the right is Bertie Gillespie, Pow, with Maggie Ann Gibson, Faraclett. c.1960.

Bertie Gillespie has been good enough to send me the following ‘snippets’ of information regarding his time at Pow:-

“Circa 1954 was a big move for the Gillespie family. We left our home in Longhope (The Old Manse) and moved tae Sourin in Rousay. Me Mum Kathleen was a Rousay Munro. We flit to a place full o’ relations – Pow. Me Dad, Bobby Gillespie, was a roadworker in Longhope, and transferred tae working on the roads in Rousay. His claim to fame was driving the road roller. At that time there was five o’ us: Bertie, George, Kenneth, Leslie, Maureen, and Norma – born in Rousay.

The Gillespie family at Pow: Standing: George, Robert, Kenneth, and Leslie.
Seated: Maureen, Kathleen, Norma, and Bobby. 1966

[Bertie says the above photo]…..was taken after I came back from the Far East in December 1965 & the reason we took the group photo George & Kenneth were heading doon tae England working on Hydro power so it would have been early 1966.

We moved to a stone-built cottage called Pow. It belonged to John Gibson and me aunty Maggie Ann, who lived next door at Faraclett. The last time Pow was occupied before us was Hugh Grieve, later Saviskaill, who was a farm servant at Faraclett. The house needed a lot o’ work tae make it habital. Me lasting memory was us four boys being put in the box bed. It was not easy tae get tae sleep mind it was really warm!

Another thing that always sticks in me mind is the carrying o’ drinking water, two buckets on a frame, one each side – the frame kept the buckets off your legs. I think it was at least half-a-mile, as the well was at the Head of Faraclett. I think it was about a year after we moved into Pow me fither invested in enough polythene pipe tae run the water fae the well to a tank doon at the hoose wae a stop-cock at the water tank. Whit a relief!!

I spent a lot o’ time at Faraclett after school helping on the farm, mainly working with the big Clydesdale horse, Big Harry. A big attraction too was they had purchased a new tractor, a David Brown Cropmaster. I got many a go on it. Mind you it was a help tae have an uncle as the farm servant. Hugh Munro later moved tae a dairy farm called Braebister in Deerness.

Some other activities I spent a lot of time at – going tae creels wae fither – and working on old motorbikes.”


The old farm of Faraclett is situated on the south-eastern slopes of the Head of Faraclett, incorporating the lands of the earlier farms of Eastafea, Midfea, and Quoynanea. The pronunciation of Faraclett as it is spelled is rarely if ever used locally. In old rentals and birth registers the farm is variously spelled Faraclee, Ferraclott, Farraclet, and Faraclay, the latter being the common pronunciation today. The earliest mention of its occupants come from old rentals – William Yorston in 1734-5, and Patrick Sinclair in 1753.

In the early 1800’s William Louttit farmed the land at Faraclett. He was one of five sons of Thomas Louttit and Margaret Craigie, and he was born in 1771. He married Isabella Craigie, and they had six children; Isabella, born in 1798; Marian, on March 8th 1799; Jean, on January 14th 1802; twins Margaret and Janet, born on January 19th 1803; and William, who was born on April 28th 1805.

In 1841, William was a 70-year-old widower. Living with him was his son William who earned his living as a blacksmith. He was married to Christina Cormack and at the time of the census enumerator’s visit they had a 2-month-old son, also named William. There were two female servants, Nanny Wurke who was 45 years old, and 15-year-old Margaret Costie, and four agricultural labourers, Edward, John and William Louttit and Hugh Costie.

With such a large farm to run William senior need help. He got that by the use of farm servants, and the census of that year records the following details of those servants: the oldest was 36-year-old Hugh Costie; Anne Inkster was 23; James Inkster, 20; Margaret Inkster, 18; and James Leonard, Alexander Costie, and Thomas Craigie, were all fourteen years of age.

Farm work was very labour intensive. Horses were used to pull ploughs, harrows and carts, but sowing, weeding, harvesting and threshing was all done by hand. Cattle needed feeding up with turnips and other fodder, especially during the long winters. Horses were well cared for: their harness needed cleaning and upkeep, their stables mucking out and the horses themselves needed feeding, watering and grooming. Dykes needed to be dug and kept clear to improve drainage, and farm machinery needed cleaning and maintaining. All the farm servants, as well as the farmer’s family, needed feeding and accommodating. So Faraclett was well populated and was a busy place.

William Louttit senior passed away at Faraclett in 1862 at the age of 91. His son William and wife Christie had six children by that time, and the oldest, the above-mentioned William [2 months old in 3rd paragraph], was working as a ploughman and married to Helen Leonard. She was the daughter of Peter Leonard and Isabella McKinlay, Digro, born in March 1841. They had six children: Peter, born in April 1859; Mary, in November 1860; Margaret, in April 1863; Matilda Leask, in August 1865; Helen, in July 1870; and William, who was born in September 1873. Farm servants moved on on a fairly regular basis, and those at Faraclett at this time were Robert Sinclair, a 33-year-old ploughman; Robert Grieve, a 12-year-old cowherd; and Mary and Harriet Craigie, who were employed as domestic servants.

By 1871 William Louttit junior and his wife Christie, and their son William and his wife Helen, worked on the land at Faraclett, the area of which had increased to an impressive 400 acres. William died in April 1873 at the age of 67, and young William and his family moved to Digro with his father-in-law Peter Leonard, who was a wool weaver.

Christie Louttit, née Cormack, with her son William Louttit,
Faraclett, his wife Helen Leonard, Digro, and their children,
Mary, Maggie, Matilda, Helen, and William. Peter, their
firstborn died of diphtheria at the age of seven.

The size of the farmland at Faraclett had increased to 408 acres by 1881, 74 of which were arable, and the tenancy had been taken over by 33-year-old farmer James Alexander, for which he paid an annual rent of £90 8s. He was the son of James Alexander and Isabella Louttit of Breckan, and he was born on January 5th 1848. On January 27th 1871 he married Ann Sinclair, daughter of Hugh Sinclair and Isabella Gibson, Stennisgorn, who was born on October 10th 1849. They had five children: Mary Sinclair, who was born in 1871; James Louttit, in 1873; Isabella Louttit, in 1883; Lydia Gibson, who was born in 1886. The family later moved to Hermisgarth, Sanday, where another boy, Alfred, was born in 1893.

The farmhouse…
…and cottage at Faraclett

Ten years later, in 1891, Faraclett was in the possession of 55-year-old William Learmonth, who moved there having previously worked at Westness Farm. The rent for Faraclett at this time was £90. per annum. William was the son of George Learmonth and Anne Wigham, and was born at Old Monkland, Lanarkshire on October 6th 1835. On June 5th 1857 he married Mary Sarle Gibson, daughter of Alexander Gibson and Janet Carmichael Marwick of Stennisgorn and later Geo, Westness, and she was born on May 12th 1830 when they were living at Bucket, Wasbister. William and Mary had seven children: Jane Lawrie, who was born in May 1858; Ann, in April 1860; George, in October 1862; William, in August 1865; and twins, Alexander, and Mary, who were born on June 15th 1868; and Robert, who was born in 1877.

Two views of Faraclett…
…with the freshwater Loch of Scockness in the foreground.

Farmer and miller John Gibson died at Hurtiso in 1893. The Learmonth family left Faraclett for Sanday, and John’s widow Margaret and her seven children moved into Faraclett, the oldest of whom, John Louttit Gibson, took on the responsibility as head of the household. The rent at that time was £78, and the census of 1911 records John’s occupation as ‘farmer/employer’, with his brother William working as a cattleman, other brothers Alfred and David employed as horsemen/ploughmen, and sister Maggie, who also assisted in work on the farm. On September 15th 1898 their other brother James, also a ploughman, married 21-year-old housemaid Mary Ann Cooper, daughter of the late William Cooper and May Linklater, Hillside, Sourin. The ceremony at Faraclett was conducted by the Reverend John McLeman, minister of the Free Church, and the witnesses were James’s brother John, and Mary Ann’s older sister Mary Elizabeth Cooper, who was a sewing maid.

In 1899 another of the Gibson brothers decided to get married. Hugh Gibson was 23 years of age when he wed Betsy Craigie, daughter of John Craigie and Betsy Leonard, Triblo, who was born on March 1st 1881. They lived at Oldman and raised a family of three children: Hugh, who was born in 1899; John, in 1902; and Annabella, who was born in 1920.

At the outbreak of the First World War, it was Field Marshall Lord Kitchener’s face and pointing gloved hand, on probably the most iconic poster in the world, saying “Your Country Needs You”, that incited thousands of eager young men to join up and fight the Germans. Many brave Orkney lads joined up – including young Hugh Gibson, who served as a private in the 7th (Service) Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. In 1918 they were fighting on the Somme, in the Battles of the Lys and The Advance in Flanders. Hugh died of wounds in hospital on 2nd May 1918, aged just 19, and is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

Hugh Gibson [rear, right], photographed shortly before
setting off to war. He is pictured with his parents,
Hugh and Betsy, and younger brother John

In 1942 Hugh’s brother John married Margaret Ann Lyon Munro, daughter of Alexander James Munro and Agnes Lyon, Ervadale, who was born in 1923. They had a daughter, Annalizabeth Craigie, born in 1943 – and she married Frederick James Garson in December 1964. Fred was the son of Frederick Rowland Garson and Jean Gorie Miller, Midhouse, Costa, where he was born in April 1941. At the time of their marriage Fred was working at Westness Farm, tending more sheep than he cared to remember. Come the day of the wedding, Rousay was hit by a blizzard and guests from the mainland were stranded at Tingwall, unable to make the crossing. After the ceremony Fred and his bride had to wade through snowdrifts to Faraclett, Anna having to hitch up her long white wedding gown on the way. They had no honeymoon, for there were cattle to be fed and hard work to be done on the farm.

Building stacks at Faraclett, c.1950: John Gibson, Faraclett [nearest camera], with Hugh Munro far right; Willie Rendall, Scockness; Hugh Gibson, Bigland; James Russell, Myres; and Willie’s daughter Wilma with her two children.
Maggie Ann Gibson and her daughter Annalizabeth, Faraclett, c.1950.
Annalizabeth outside the farmhouse at Faraclett, c.1950
Ian Craigie, Corse, with Mary and Fred Garson, c.1950
Annalizabeth Gibson, Faraclett c.1960
Fred and Anna on their wedding day –
December 3rd 1964
Fred and Anna’s children: John, Morag, Shona, and Alan, Faraclett c.1972
Fred warming two new-born lambs beside the Doric stove at Faraclett in the snowy winter of 1977. Photo taken by the island’s postman Garry Jarvis.


Scockness was a peninsular farm in Sourin, the most easterly part of the island. Variously spelled in old rentals and records as Skowkness in 1549, Skoknes in 1576, and Scocknes in 1595, the first mention of any occupant was made in 1549 when Edward Sinclair lived there. It was in that year that Bishop Reid, in return for his “faithful kindness and support, especially in the defence of Christian faith and the liberty of the Holy Kirk,” granted a lease of “all and hail our landis of Skowkness in Rousay, with ye miln and holme of the samyn with yair pertinentis” to no less a man than Edward Sinclair of Strome and his wife – for their whole lives. Edward was a brother of Sir James Sinclair of Sanday and one of the Orkney leaders at the Battle of Summerdale.

A recent photo of Scockness, showing its proximity to Egilsay and the famous round tower of St Magnus Kirk.

In a court case in 1817 concerning grazing rights on the Head of Faraclett, Hugh Marwick stated that at one time he had been joint tenant of Scockness with his father Magnus. It is claimed by some that he was related to the Marwicks who were in Langskaill and Saviskaill in the 1700s.

According to Robert C. Marwick in Rousay Roots, Magnus Marwick was born and married during the period when there was a gap in the Rousay records, though his son Hugh’s birth is known to have taken place at Scockness in 1766. Hugh married Betsy Sinclair, daughter of George Sinclair, Brendale, later Faraclett. They raised a family of ten boys: first-born was Magnus, and though no date is forthcoming is was generally thought to have been in 1794; Thomas, was born in 1796; James, in 1798; William, in December 1800; John, in January 1803; Hugh, in July 1805; Robert, in July 1806; Hugh, in February 1810 [who died young – like his brother Hugh before him]; Isaac, in July 1812; and Craigie, who was born in January 1815. In her old age Betsy was asked how many children she had had. “ten devils,” she replied. Thereafter, her sons were collectively known as the ‘Ten Devils’.

The Marwicks were evicted from Scockness in 1830 after a dispute with the laird over kelp-making. Kelp was the ash produced by burning certain kinds of seaweed in stone-lined pits at the shore. Twenty tons of wet seaweed yielded about a ton of kelp. The ash fused into a solid mass which had to be broken up before being shipped south to chemical plants. The main chemicals obtained from kelp were potassium phosphate (about 12%) and iodine (about 4%). In the 1830s cheaper sources of these chemicals were found elsewhere and the kelp market, on which Orkney was heavily dependent at that time, collapsed.

It was the Stevenson family who took over the tenancy of Scockness after the eviction. James Stevenson, who was born about 1774 in Stronsay. He married Rebekkah Sinclair in 1813 and they had six children, all of whom were born on the island. Daughter Rebekkah was born in August 1814; James, in January 1817; George, in September 1819; Barbara, in October 1822; Robert, in August 1826; and Margaret, who was born in 1828.

Robert Stevenson [b.1826] married Margaret Marwick, daughter of ‘devil’ number 2 Thomas Marwick, Woo, and Ann Gibson, Broland, who was born in March 1837. They had eight children: Margaret, born in December 1860; Rebecca Ann, in January 1863; Isabella Marwick, in February 1867; Robina Gibson, in November 1868; Robert, in April 1872; James Mainland, in January 1874; William Neil, in 1876; and Mary Sinclair, who was born in November 1877.

In 1858 Margaret Stevenson [b.1828] married William Melville of Sanday, who came to Rousay to work as a miller at Sourin. Her sister Barbara [b.1822] married William Mainland of Cott Mowat. He came from a poor family and at first was not regarded by the Stevensons as a suitable husband for Barbara. He went to Australia for several years and made a lot of money. On his return he married Barbara. “At that time,” he boasted later, “I could have bought out all the bloody Stevensons!”

Robert Stevenson and wife Margaret Marwick, c.1912

Back to the census of 1841, and James Stevenson was a busy farmer and his sons George and James were fishermen. At this time there was another tenant at Scockness, Thomas Gibson, a 50-year-old farmer, and he and James paid £20 each a year rent. Thomas was the son of John Gibson and Isabella Craigie of Scockness, and he had a brother, Robert, who lived at Bigland. He married Isabel Harcus on December 5th 1815, and they lived at nearby at Bigland where their seven children were born between 1816 and 1823.

By 1851, Thomas and Isabella Gibson had moved over to Egilsay to farm the land at Onziebist and James and Rebekkah Stevenson were the sole tenants at Scockness. Rebekkah died in 1853 at the age of 70. Their sons Robert and George were employed as carpenters at this time. George married Janet Marwick, the daughter of Hugh Marwick and Mary Yorston of Clook, Frotoft, but she died in 1860 at the age of 40.

In 1861, 40-year-old widower George Stevenson was farming 50 acres at Scockness, together with William Mainland who was joint tenant, and they both paid £30 a year rent. He was the son of Alexander Mainland and Mary Cooper of Cott Mowat, which stood near the shore on what is now part of the land of Avalshay, a short distance from Brinian House. He was born on February 16th 1823, and was 34 years of age when he married George’s sister Barbara in 1857. They had five children: Janet Margaret was born in May 1858; William Muir, in January 1860; Mary, in April 1861; James Alexander, in February 1863; and John, who was born in December 1866.

Scockness, with the old kirkyard to the right, Wart Holm across the firth,
and the south-western tip of Westray beyond.

The following information is from the 1861 Rousay census, and tells us who was at Scockness farm when the enumeration was carried out on Friday April 8th. 38-year-old William Mainland was head of the household and a farmer of 50 acres. Wife Barbara was 37 and at this time they had three children; two year-old Margaret; one-year-old William; and 1-day-old Mary. Robina Marwick (28) was their domestic servant; William Johnston (14) was an agricultural labourer; Malcolm Corsie was an 11-year-old cowherd; Margaret Melville, Barbara’s sister, was  then  32 years old and a miller’s wife; Mary Mainland, William’s 68-year-old widowed mother; Mary Mainland, his unmarried 37- year-old sister, who was employed as an agricultural labourer; and last, but by no means least, the lady who delivered baby Mary, 70- year-old midwife Isabella Donaldson from Sanday.

By 1871, the Mainland family had done what the Gibson family had done twenty years previously and moved over to Onziebist on the neighbouring island of Egilsay. This left George Stevenson as the sole tenant of Scockness, and by that time he had married again. His wife was Mary Gibson, daughter of Hugh Gibson and Janet Craigie of Skatequoy, born on August 26th 1830. They had two children, Mary, born in 1866, and George, born in November 1869.

George Stevenson died in 1877 and Mary his widow died in the late 1880s. Their children Mary and George took over the tenancy, the rent at that time being £73 per year, but this was reduced to £60 because they had been left as orphans. The pair left Rousay before the end of the century, for the census of 1901 tells us Scockness was occupied by Robert Marwick, who was by then a 56-year-old widower. Robert was the son of Robert Marwick, one of the Ten Devils who lived at Essaquoy, and his wife Bell Mainland of Cotafea. Born on September 4th 1845, Robert junior, or Robbie o’ Scockness as he was known, was 21 years old when he married Ann Blalick Hourston of Tankerness on October 25th 1866. They raised a family of seven children: Isabella, born in June 1867; Mary Ann, in July 1869; Jemima Baikie, in December 1871; Robert William, in April 1874; Margaret Johan, in August 1876; Elizabeth, in July 1879; and Jessie, who was born in November 1882.

Robert’s wife Ann was 52 years of age when she passed away on February 1st 1892 when the family were living at Woo. Robert moved to Scockness with unmarried daughters Mary Ann, Maggie, and Jessie. In 1903 Mary Ann married Hugh Corsie Robertson, son of Hugh Smith Robertson, South Tofts, Egilsay, and Margaret Mainland Corsie, Brendale, who was born in September 1847. They had three children: George Marwick, born in 1905; Annie May, in 1907; and Hugh, who was born in 1909.

Mary Ann Marwick had a son, William, born on July 2nd 1892. Her sister Margaret Johan also had a son, Robert William Marwick, who was born on November 18th 1903. In 1915 she married Hugh Craigie, son of Hugh Harold Craigie, Ha’breck, Wyre, later Swandale, and Mary Mainland, Ervadale and they had three children: Hugh Harold, born in 1917; Annie Mary, in 1920; and George Mainland, who was born in 1922.

The two photos, above and below, show Robbie o’ Scockness with members of his vast family. His daughters, Maggie and Mary Ann in the picture above left, both had children christened Annie, George, and Hugh – and the naming on the reverse of each photo is insufficient to properly identify who is who! – Above right are the Scockness sisters in their latter years – Mary Ann Robertson (left) and Maggie Craigie. – The photo below right shows Maggie’s husband Hugh Craigie carting ware at North Sand.

[All black & white photos are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection, unless otherwise stated.]


Breck & Myres


Breck was a croft in Sourin, between Myres and Hurtiso. It was occupied by Alexander Gibson in 1734 and William Craigie in 1738.

In the census of 1841 it was spelt Braik, and was occupied by William Marwick, the fourth oldest of the ten sons of son of Hugh Marwick, Scockness, and Betsy Sinclair [another of her ‘ten devils], and he was born on December 13th 1800. He married Barbara Reid of Pow on March 14th 1820, but she died not long afterwards. On February 2nd 1827 he married 23-year-old Anne Shearer, the daughter of William Shearer and Isabella Rendall of Shapinsay. There were no children from either marriage.

In the census of 1851 the house is spelt Brake, the annual rent for which at this time was £8. William Marwick was then earning a living as a farmer and fisherman, and his wife Ann was 46 years of age. Living with them were two farm servants; 22-year-old Betsy Mowat and Mary McGillvary, the 12-year-old daughter of James and Hellenor McGillvary of Upper Cornquoy, Egilsay.

Breck [foreground] and Myres today, with the farmhouse and buildings of Faraclett up on the hill

Living at Nether Brake at this time was William’s nephew Hugh Marwick. He was a 27-year-old boat builder when he married Margaret Sinclair of Swandale on March 9th 1849. This family emigrated to New Zealand in the 1850’s, and shortly afterwards moved to Australia. They had six children; Annie, born in 1853, who married her cousin William Yorston; Elizabeth, who died during the voyage aged 1 year; Thomas, born in 1856 and died in 1904, unmarried; Robert, born in 1858, but died in infancy; Hugh, born in 1859, and died in 1885, unmarried; and Margaret, born in 1861, who was also unmarried.

William Marwick died at Breck in 1880, at the age of 80. When the census was carried out in 1881 his widow Anne was still living there, and was helped by Ann Inkster, a 52-year-old general servant. Anne died later that year in her 77th year.

Another tenant at Breck at that time was Craigie Marwick, who was farming the 36 acres, for which he paid an annual rent of £15, but in 1888 this was reduced by the Crofters Commission to £10. He was the son of James Marwick and Janet Craigie of Eastaquoy and was born on July 16th 1845. He married 22-year-old Ann Mowat of Evie on February 6th 1869. They had no children. In 1881 they employed Jean Harcus, a 16-year-old general servant, and Jessie Alexina Craigie, who was then a 12-year-old farm servant, and daughter of James Craigie, Falquoy, and Janet Sinclair, Stennisgorn. [Jessie Alexina married John Mainland Craigie, Cruar, in 1916 and lived to the age of 101]. Craigie Marwick was said to have been a well-liked and much respected man in Sourin.

Baby Helen Craigie (Nellie) Harcus, born in 1920, pictured with her mother Helen
Harcus, nee Craigie, Clumpy, who is standing at the back. Seated to the left is
her grandmother, Helen Craigie, nee Louttit, Breck, and seated on the right
is her great-grandmother, Helen Craigie, nee Louttit, Digro.

John Marwick Craigie, son of John Craigie and Mary Wood Marwick of Grips, Sourin, was born on November 30th 1866. At a young age John and his family went south, and he worked as a coachman to the Coats family of J. & P. Coats Thread Mills in Ferguslie, Paisley, Renfrewshire. John decided to return to Orkney, and when he left their service, he was presented with a bicycle, apparently the first one to come to Rousay. On December 6th 1906 he married Helen Louttit, her second marriage, and they lived at Breck, where, on March 30th 1908, their son John was born. Helen was the daughter of William Louttit, Faraclett, and Helen Leonard, Digro, and was born on July 1st 1870. On April 1st 1892 she married fisherman James Craigie, Cruar, but he passed away on May 1st 1903. They had four children: James William, born in June 1892 [he married Lizzie Craigie, Bu, Wyre, in 1915]; John, in April 1894; Helen, in February 1896 [she married John Harcus, Westray, in 1918, and had three children: James, Nellie, and John Angus]; and William, who was born in July 1898.

Later occupants of Breck were John Craigie, just mentioned as being born in 1908, and his family. On June 29th 1933 he married 16-year-old domestic servant Jane Maria Harrold Clouston, daughter of Archer Clouston senior and his first wife Helen Findlay (Ellen) Lyon. John and Jane had four daughters, the first of whom, Ellen Mary (Lena), was born in 1936. John and Jane are pictured above, on their wedding day, and proudly showing off their first-born.

Standing, from the left: Annie Craigie & baby Anita, a friend from Lancashire,
John Marwick Jr., Maggie Marwick, Hughie Marwick.
Seated in front are Aggie and John Marwick Sen. of Breck.

Breck was eventually home to members of the Marwick family. John William Marwick was the youngest of the six children of William Marwick and Sarah Inkster Leonard, Quoygray, who were married in May 1871. Born in 1892, he was 21 years of age when he married Agnes Elizabeth (Aggie) Johnston, daughter of James Johnston, Brinian, and Isabella (Bell) Corsie, Breek, who was also born in 1892. They had three sons: John William, James Leonard, and Hugh Edward, all born in November of the years 1913, 1914, and 1915. John William junior married Lorna Margaret Miller in 1943; James Leonard married Ella Simpson, also in 1943; and in 1941 Hugh Edward was married to Margaret Annette (Netta) Sinclair.

John William and his wife Aggie, with son Hughie and his wife Netta. c.1950


Myres was a croft in Sourin, formerly a cot of Scockness, described in volume 16 of the Orkney Ordnance Survey Name Books (1879-1880) as ‘a farm house situate at 9 chains north east of Breck. It is built of stone thatched one storey high and is in fair repair. It is the property of Colonel Burroughs C.B.’

It first known occupants were John Craigie, originally Hurtiso, later Myres, and his wife Marian (Mary Ann) Louttit, Faraclett, both of whom were born in 1799. John was the son of John Craigie and Christian Marwick. Married in February 1823 they had three children; Lydia, born in December 1823; John, in February 1826; and Margaret, who was born in July 1829.

John Craigie passed away before the census of 1841 was carried out. Between the years 1845 and 1862 Marian was paying an annual rent of £4 10s. Employed as a midwife, Marian’s rent gradually rose to nine guineas by 1863, and higher still by 1879, when she was paying £15.

On December 1st 1857 Marian’s daughter Lydia married John Gibson, son of Hugh Gibson, Burness, and his third wife Margaret Harcus, who was born in February 1834. Between 1858 and 1868 they raised a family of four children: John, born in 1858; Allan Corsie, in 1861; Lydia Craigie, in 1864; and Agnes Davie, who was born in 1868. On January 26th 1860 Lydia’s brother John married 28-year-old Margaret Inkster, daughter of William Inkster and Margaret Gibson, Ervadale, and they raised a family of seven. The first two children, John and Margaret Gibson, were born in Rousay in 1860 and 61, but they moved to Unst, Shetland, where William, Ann Cameron Mowat, James Jaffray, Mary Jane, and Isabella, were all born between 1865 and 1872.  

The 1881 census reveals that Marian was then in her 81st year and described as being a farmer of 28 acres. Living there with her at that time was her unmarried 50-year-old daughter Margaret. Daughter Lydia died of lung cancer in May 1873. Her farmer/fisherman husband John Gibson married a second time, in November 1874, his bride being Matilda Smith Saunders, who was born in December 1848. She was the daughter of Peter Saunders and Mary Louttit, St. Ola, and was working as a domestic servant at Scockness at the time of the marriage. They lived at Myres and at the time of the census John’s daughter Agnes was 13 years of age.

In 1888, the Widow Craigie was, according to the Laird, “bedridden and forced to become a crofter by her grandson Alan Gibson!!!  £8 15s 0d rent – so reduced by Crofter’s Commission!!!” Marian Craigie died in 1890, her daughter Margaret continuing to live at Myres on private means.

Come the census of 1891 we find Alan Corsie Gibson [referred to above and being born in 1861], and his sister Agnes Davie Gibson living at Myres. In 1898 Agnes married Hugh Inkster, son of James Inkster, Ervadale, later Quoys, Sourin, and Margaret Pearson, Kirkgate, who was born in January 1869. They later emigrated to South Africa. In 1899 Alan Corsie Gibson married Jane Agnes (Aggie) Sinclair, daughter of Peter Sinclair and Catherine Bain, and was born in 1876. They had two sons, Hugh Inkster, born in 1900, and John Stanley, who was born in 1905.

John Logie and his wife Mary Jane Inkster, with three of their sons mentioned below.

John Logie, son of Westside shepherd Robert Logie and Mary Murray, Tofts, Quandale, was born October 13th 1871. In 1897 he married Mary Jane Inkster, daughter of Hugh Inkster, Gorn, Hammer, Geo, later Knapper, and Georgina Harcus, Westray, and she was born on March 20th 1873. John and Mary Jane had five sons: John William, born in May 1898; James Robert, in July 1900; George Harcus, in February 1902; Alexander (Sandy) Reid, in February 1912; and David Hugh, who was born in March 1919, but died just less than four months later.

Shepherd Robert Logie and his grandson Sandy.
Hugh Inkster and wife Georgina Harcus, with daughter Mary Jane. Hugh and Georgina  spent their latter years
living at Myres.
Bob and Sandy Logie, c.1920.
In 1934 James Robert Logie, married Isabella Brass Marwick, Cottisgarth, Rendall. Bob worked for J & W Tait seed merchants in Kirkwall for many years.
John Logie, with sons, George, Bob, and Sandy, c.1951.

[All black & white photos are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]


Nethermill to Hurtiso

Nethermill, Lopness, Guidal, & Hurtiso

Tommy Gibson tells us about the Sourin Mill

The Sourin Mill is a large well-built stone building of three storeys, situated at the end of the Sourin burn near Lopness and Nethermill. This was the largest building in Sourin, and today still stands as straight and square as it was when it was built. On the west end of the building four plaques have the dates of 1777, 1861, 1880, 1937. The first date is presumably when the building was constructed. It is not known if there was a mill there before, and I doubt if there were. The wheel on the east end of the mill is a cast iron construction, and was made in sections. The wheel was 14 feet in diameter, and 4 feet across with 48 buckets. The axel, holding everything up, was 5 inches of solid steel. The arrangement at the wheel for the water was overshot; this was quite a powerful wheel to drive all the equipment, which were three sets of grinding wheels. The first one was for bere meal; the stone was from Derbyshire, called Derby Burr. The oatmeal stone was manufactured; it was made in sections and then banded with iron hoops, called a French Burr. The shelling stone usually came from Yesnaby in Sandwick. Also the hoist; this was to lift the sacks of grain to the top of the mill, and elevators and separators and fans. The water driving the wheel came from the Muckle Water, with a small dam that was built at Woo. A ditch was dug from the dam to the wheel above the burn to the mill course as the wheel was overshot. A wooden trap in the mill course diverted and governed the amount of water to and from the wheel. In the 1940’s a small shed was built at the rear of the mill.

This was a room to house a small dynamo driven by a small water wheel, to provide electric light in the mill. The only light was from paraffin lamps, and this was the only light used since the mill was built. Before the days of the mill, most of the houses had a kiln attached to the barn, which the corn and oats for drying was done. After the mill was built, a lot of drying was still done but then the grain was sent to the mill. This practice was continued up to the 1850’s, then more and more grain sent to the mill undryed. The kiln at the mill became too small, and in 1861 a larger kiln was built. This was slightly wider than the mill and slightly higher. This increased the floor area for grain drying. I have no record for 1880, but there must have been some structural work taken place. In 1937 the kiln took fire. The roof of the kiln was badly damaged and the mill was out of production for a while. Had the fire gone into the main building the whole lot would have been destroyed. There is a tremendous amount of timber in the mill. Heavy beams under the floor, holding up untold tons of grain, huge beams, a foot square holding up the hoist mechanism, which is housed in a wooden structure in front of the mill. Repairs to the kiln and a new roof was put on and the mill started up again.

The miller, or his son or servant, had to walk up to the tepping (sluice) early on a Monday morning to open the sluice as it took a few hours for the water to flow down. This water ran till Saturday when it was closed in the afternoon. The water ran on till 9-10 o’clock when the mill closed for the day. Only in the springtime when the water was not so plentiful that the sluice was closed every afternoon. The miller usually worked for 14 hours a day and six days a week and usually employed a kiln man and at busy times a labourer. On the average working day the mill ground 25 sacks of oats and 22 sacks of corn or bere. A sack of grain was 2 cwt, this was traditionally the correct weight for the mill, and the meal came in how (boll) sacks. A boll was 10 stone.

Corn or bere had only two rows of grain while barley has four. Long ago it was mainly black oats and red sandy; it was only in later years that heavier oats were available. The best yield was from the smaller oats. Products from the mill were oatmeal, bere meal, grapp and souan sids. Grapp was an inferior grade of grain and hull, ground for pig and poultry feed. Souan sids, was when the flour was riddled small bits of husk and the finest flour was gathered up. This was then soaked and made into a sharp porridge. I remember in the mid 1950’s Robbie Seatter of Banks had a square of corn growing in a field above the mill. The area was about half an acre, and this was about the last of the corn grown in Rousay for the Sourin mill.

Each sack of grain weighed 2 cwt. each. This was traditionally the correct weights for the mill. Carts which came to the mill with grain usually went under the hatch in front of the mill. The grain was then lifted to the top of the mill by a hoist. Once the hoist was engaged the sack had to travel to the top of the mill. A chain with a loop was then put around the sack. Once a farmer put the chain around the sack, and unfortunately the hoist was engaged before his fingers were out of the chain. The miller looked down when he heard shouting. “Woe, woe, stop, stop,” the farmer was coming up holding on very, very tightly to the sack! The Sourin mill took most of the grain in Rousay. In the springtime when the weather dried, the Sourin mill had plenty of water and grain came from Westray, Eday, North Fara, Egilshay and Wyre. When the North Fara men came to the mill, they went to Hurtiso for a horse and cart to take the grain from the boat to the mill. Sometimes the horse was working, or in the hill, so they were quite happy with a cart. Fara men were big and strong: they pulled the cart themselves. Three Westray men were drowned near the Clett at Scockness. The boat was a Westray skiff, loaded with grain. Northerly wind and a back tide cause a nasty upheaval in the water along the Clett. The boat, perhaps too close to the shore, missed a tack and capsized at the shore. The mill was a meeting place for local boys from the district of an evening. Some of the more popular ones were going hand-over-hand over the twartbaeks (couple backs) in the roof. Another thing they did was to write their name on a wall using a fifty-six pound weight as a pen, hooked on their little finger and only very few of them could do this. In many ways it is a pity that the mill had to close, for it was a source of food and as a social gathering place in the evening for the people of the district, for news, views, contests and trivia etc. The mill closed down in 1955.


The first miller on record in Sourin was Hugh Marwick, born c.1776, and was living at Clumpy in the early 1800s with his wife Janet. His brother William, born c1786, was an ‘under miller’ according to the census of 1841. William, originally of ‘Oot-o-dikes, Sowrine’, was married to Jane Work and they lived at Hanover. They had a family of ten children, born between 1816 and 1838. Son John, born in August 1822, was also a miller, and married to Margaret Costie, daughter of David Costie and Betty Gibson.

The census of 1861 tells of 28-year-old miller William Melville, born in Sanday, living at Lopness with wife Margaret. At this time Robert Harrold was a 40-year-old, miller living at Hammermugly (Blossom). He was married to Mary Grieve, daughter of Alexander and Catherine Grieve, Howe, Egilsay. They had a family of five daughters born between 1855 and 1860, two of whom, Mary and Isabella, were twins.

In 1871, 29-year-old miller William Voy from Tankerness, was living at Lopness. He had recently married Jemima MacLellan Johnston, daughter of John Johnston, Brinian, and Elizabeth Reid, Pow, Westside, who was born in June 1842. They raised a family of seven children between 1869 and 1887.

The census of 1881, carried out on April 4th that year, recorded the aptly-named Alexander Miller as the Sourin miller, employing two men – though their names are not mentioned. He was born in Wick c.1850, and was married to Anne Mainland, daughter of John Mainland, Bu, Wyre, later Onzibust, and Mary Sinclair, Tratland, and she was born in November 1854. Alexander and Anne were the parents of four daughters and one son, born between 1876 and 1885.

The 1890s saw farmer/miller John Gibson living at nearby Hurtiso. Born at Sketquoy in January 1839, he was the son of Hugh Gibson and Janet Craigie, Cogar. In 1867 he married Margaret Louttit, daughter of William Louttit and Christina Cormack, Faraclett. They raised a family of eight children, born between 1869 and 1884. Also living at Hurtiso at this time was 35-year-old miller James Wood, who was born in Evie.

John Craigie was the miller at the Sourin mill for many years. The son of John Craigie, Shalter, and Betsy Louttit, Blackhammer, he was born in March 1859. In November 1878 he married Betsy Leonard, daughter of George Leonard, Stourameadow, and Margaret Clouston, Tou, born in November 1857. They lived at Triblo and raised a family of ten children born between 1879 and 1904. After Betsy’s death in 1932 John, along with daughters Isabella and Annie, took over the Queen’s Hotel in Kirkwall.

Sourin Miller John Craigie and his wife Betsy Leonard


There are three separate entries for Nethermill in the census of 1841. First occupant was 65-year-old Betsy Sinclair, who made a living from spinning. Then there was 35-year-old Alexander Reid, his wife Mary, who was 25, and their seven-month old daughter Mary. There was a bonnet maker there too, 25-year-old Julia (Giles) Mainland, daughter of Alexander Mainland, Banks, Frotoft, and Margaret Grieve, Hurtiso.

There is an interesting entry in one of the laird’s rent books regarding an inhabitant of Nethermill in 1845, William Inkster – “he poaches the Salmon Trout that come up the burn – must pull this house down.” A new house [pictured below] was built at Nethermill – but not until 1887.

There were two new families in 1851. Living at Nethermill 1 was 30-year-old seamstress Helen Grieve, her 25-year-old sister Mary who was an agricultural labourer, and their 23-year-old brother Alexander, who was a fisherman. These were three of the six children of navy pensioner James Grieve [born c.1776] and Elizabeth Davie. They were all born in Egilsay between 1816 and 1831. Helen, christened Eleanor Bews Grieve, married William Marwick, Hanover in 1852. Alexander married Margaret Harrold, Hammermugly.

At Nethermill 2 was 29-year-old fisherman John Marwick [William’s brother just mentioned], his 29-year-old wife Margaret Costie and their children, Betsy (3) and John, who was twelve months old. John and William were sons of William Marwick and Jean Work of ‘Oot-o-dikes, Sowrine’, and he was born on August 4th 1822. Margaret was the daughter of David Costie and Betty Gibson and she was born at Breek, Quandale, on May 6th 1822.

By 1861 Alexander Grieve and his family were the only inhabitants of Nethermill. His wife Margaret was the daughter of William Harrold and Elizabeth Grieve of Hammermugly, and she was born on August 10th 1818. Their three children were William, born in 1855, Alexander, in 1856, and John Yorston, who was born in 1859. As well as making a living from fishing in the latter years of the 1800s Alexander made ends meet making money as a weaver. Meanwhile, his son Alexander was a dryster – meaning he was in charge of the drying of grain in the kiln at the nearby mill.

[Above left] William McLaughlan Harrold Grieve [born 14 April 1855] and Mary Ann Clouston [born in Orphir, 1868], daughter of John Honeyman Clouston and Catherine Groundwater, were married in Kirkwall on March 28th 1903, witnessed by Maggie Jane Grieve and Archer Clouston. William and Mary Ann later lived at Upper Knarston.

[Centre] Teacher John Yorston Grieve, Nethermill, with his nephew David Marwick [son of Eleanor Bews Grieve and William Marwick, who went to Canada]. John was born on January 26th 1859. He married Anne Gibson Grieve, daughter of Malcolm Grieve and Frances/Fanny Costie, who was born on July 14th 1862. On July 14th 1881 Anne died of a fever during childbirth at the schoolhouse at Pierowall, Westray, where John was the assistant teacher. John died on Oct 28th 1889, aged 30, and they are both interred in the Scockness kirkyard.

[Above right] Alexander [Sandy] Grieve, the dryster mentioned above, born on November 7th 1856, died 1945.


We have learned already that Lopness [pictured below] was where a succession of Sourin millers lived over the years…..

In 1861 it was occupied by 28-year-old William Melville from Sanday.

In 1871 William Voy, a 29-year-old miller from Tankerness, lived there with his wife Jemima Johnston, daughter of John Johnston and Elizabeth Reid of the Brinian. They were married in 1869 and by the time the census was carried out they had a one-year-old son William.

31-year-old Alexander Miller from Helzigatha, Wyre, a miller employing two men, lived at Lopness in 1881. He was married to Anne Mainland, daughter of John Mainland and Mary Sinclair of the Bu, Wyre, who was born on November 12th 1854, and they had five children.

Above left are sisters Alice and Cissie Craigie, who originally lived at Furse. Alice married Stanley Gibson, Bigland, later Lopness, and Cissie married his brother Hugh. Alice and Stanley had three children, Hugh Inkster, Margaret Gladys, and James William [in the picture – who later married Ruth Miller, Schoolhouse, Wasbister]. c.1934. – To the right is the afore-mentioned Stanley Gibson, son of Alan Corsie Gibson and Jane Agnes Sinclair, who was born at Bigland in 1905. Renowned for his expertise as a stonemason and builder, examples of his work can still be seen around the island to this day. Here Stanley takes a break from work, to pose for the camera with his dog at Viera Lodge, c.1940.


Guidal was a cottage in Sourin between Hurtiso and Lopness, occupied in 1653 by Alexander Yorston, between 1735 and 1739 by Peter Sinclair, and in 1798 by George Craigie. In the Rousay Birth Registers in the 18th century the house was called Bergoodale, and in 1803 Bergoodal, though from 1816 onwards Guidal.

The only photo showing the location of Guidal – between Hurtiso to the left and Lopness to the right.

By 1840 shoemaker Isaac Marwick lived at Guidal with his wife Betsy Yorston. Isaac was the son of Hugh Marwick and Betsy Sinclair of Scockness, born on July 26th 1812 – another of Betsy’s “ten devils.” Betsy Yorston was the daughter of Magnus Yorston and Janet Marwick of Oldman, born on February 19th 1812. Married on January 15th 1836, Isaac and Betsy had three children: Hugh was born in May 1840; Isaac Elrick, in June 1844 [he married Mary Crossman Wilson on Holy Island, Northumberland in April 1875, and became a minister in Kirkcaldy]; and Janet, who was born in September 1848. [At the time of the 1871 census she was a teacher at the Sourin school]. Isaac and Betsy lived at Guidal all their lives.

In 1862, son Hugh went to New Zealand with his uncle Thomas. He worked there as a carpenter and boat builder until he returned to Orkney to be married in 1870. His bride, on May 31st that year, was Lydia Gibson of Langskaill, daughter of George Gibson and Ann Mainland, who was born on June 28th 1842.

Isaac and Betsy Marwick at Guidal.

After their marriage Hugh returned to New Zealand with wife Lydia, and their daughter Betsy Ann was born in Otago in 1871. They soon came back to Rousay though, for daughter Janet (Jessie) was born here on November 13th 1872, as were brothers, Isaac, on March 24th 1875, and Hugh, who was born on November 30th 1881. Hugh senior opened a shop at Guidal, but at the same time he carried on his other work of carpentry and boat-building. He was also employed as the island’s School Attendance Officer, and the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths.

Isaac and Betsy Marwick, in their latter years at Guidal.
Hugh Marwick and his wife Lydia Gibson.

The census of 1891 tells us that Betsy and Isaac Marwick [pictured above] were both in their 80th year, and he was still making boots and shoes at Guidal. Son Hugh was a 50-year-old merchant, his sister Jessie was a ‘pupil teacher’, brother Isaac an apprentice shoemaker, and young brother Hugh was a nine-year-old scholar. Jessie Marwick was head teacher at the Sourin school between 1903/1911, and later head of Ely School in Cambridgeshire. Betsy Marwick died at Guidal on January 27th 1900 at the age of 87 and her husband Isaac was 94 when he passed away on December 16th 1906.

Hugh Marwick, Guidal 1840-1930.
Hugh’s daughters Betsy Ann and Jessie.

Hugh Marwick [born 1881] was educated at Kirkwall Grammar School and Edinburgh University, later becoming head of English at Burnley Grammar School in Lancashire. In July 1914 he married photographer’s assistant Jane Barritt. Born on February 20th 1888, she was the daughter of Burnley councillor Charles Barritt and farmer’s daughter Mary Martha Whittaker, who were married on November 30th 1873. Jane had four sisters: her twin Elizabeth, Ellen, Annie, and Florence Mary. Hugh and Jane has a son, christened Hugh Gibson Marwick, born in 1916. He was just 12 years old when he died in the Balfour Hospital as a result of an accidental fall on January 31st 1928, the family living in King Street, Kirkwall at the time.

Jane Barritt (second right) and her sisters.
Hugh Marwick and his brother Isaac.
Hugh and Jane Marwick, with their son Hugh

Hugh Marwick was appointed Rector of Kirkwall Grammar School in 1914 and continued in that role until 1929, when he was made director of the Orkney Education Committee, a post he held until 1946.

His MA [Master of Arts] was from the University of Edinburgh, who awarded his D.Litt. [Doctor Litterarum, or Doctor of Letters] in 1926 after he had worked many years on his doctoral thesis, the basis for his book The Orkney Norn. Dr Marwick was one of the founders of the Orkney Antiquarian Society in 1922 with fellow Orcadian and Norse enthusiast John Mooney JP, FSA (Scot) and was its secretary for 17 years, during which he contributed papers to its Proceedings. He was also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Dr Marwick received many academic awards for his work both in this country and Scandinavia.

On Wednesday December 15th 1954 he was granted the Freedom of the Burgh of Kirkwall, a ceremony marking the occasion being held in St Magnus Cathedral where he signed the Burgess Roll. He was also an honorary sheriff-substitute for Orkney. He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1965.

His published works include: The Orkney Norn (1926 University of Edinburgh D.Litt. Thesis, 1929 Oxford University Press); The Place Names of Rousay (1947); Orkney (1951); and Orkney Farm-Names (1952).

Dr Hugh Marwick passed away at noon on May 21st 1965. He is remembered in a memorial plaque in St Magnus Cathedral alongside a number of other ‘sons of Orkney’, including George Mackay Brown, Robert Rendall, Stanley Cursiter, and Edwin Muir.

A photo of a copy of the Stanley Cursiter portrait of
Dr Hugh Marwick, painted to mark his OBE
appointment in 1965. This portrait hangs
in the Rousay Community School.


Hurtiso was an old farm in Sourin, occupied by Thomas Seatter in 1735 and George Craigie in 1798. When Robert Gibson became tenant of Hurtiso the Meal Mill of Sourin, Lopness or the Miller men’s House, and Nethermill or Mill House were included as well, for which he paid an annual rent of  £50 in 1845. Robert was the son of David Gibson, Langskaill, and Jean Marwick, and was born in 1799. On March 14th 1826, he married Robina (Bethinia) Irvine, Rendall, and they had ten children, eight girls and two boys.

The Gibson family moved to Langskaill, and by 1851, the 35-acre farm of Hurtiso was in the hands of James Stevenson, a 34-year-old farmer from Stronsay. James was the son of James Stevenson, Stronsay, later Scockness, and Rebekkah Sinclair, and was born in January 1817. On November 27th 1851 he married Margaret Gibson, daughter of James Gibson, Flintersquoy, and Mary Marwick, and she was born in October 1832. They raised a family of eight children between the years 1852 and 1874. In 1853 James paid rent of £80, and by 1872 this had risen to £100.

The Stevenson family moved to Settisgarth, off the Lyde Road in Firth, and by 1881 49-year-old James Marwick was running the farm of Hurtiso. He was the second oldest of the thirteen children of Robert Marwick and Isabel (Bell) Mainland of Essaquoy. Born on September 24th 1831, James was brought up by his uncle and aunt, John and Betsy Marwick, at Ervadale. On March 4th 1856 he married Mary Baikie, the daughter of Peter Baikie and Helen Moar, who was born in Evie in December 1828. James and Mary had five children, all born at Ervadale.

They stayed at Hurtiso for a few years before moving to Bankburn in South Ronaldsay. Their third oldest son was christened George Richie Marwick, after the Rev. George Ritchie, at whose manse Mary had worked prior to her marriage. In the 1881 census 21-year-old George Ritchie Marwick is described as a former apprentice law clerk.

In 1889 John Gibson and his family lived and worked at Hurtiso. In the laird’s words in his rent book he called him a ‘late crofter from Skatequoy’ paying rent of £30 for Hurtiso and £40 for the Meal Mill. John, a farmer and miller, was born in 1839, and was married to Margaret Louttit in 1867 and between 1869 and 1884 they had eight children. They later moved to Faraclett where John died in 1893. A year later the tenants of Hurtiso and the Meal Mill were John Scott and his son from Sanday, paying a combined rent of £82 for the 63 acres arable 18 acres of pasture land.

John Scott and his children at Hurtiso.

John Scott was the son of farmer John Scott and Janet Dearness of Burness, Sanday, and he was born in 1837. On February 8th 1866 he married Ann Cumming, daughter of stonemason John Cumming and Margaret Mowat, Victoria Street, Kirkwall. They had seven children who were all born at Parlgo, a small cottage in Broughtown, Cross & Burness, Sanday: Margaret Mowat, born on December 7th 1866; John, in December 1868; William Stocks, in August 1871; Annie, in 1876; Jeannie, in 1878; David, in 1882; and Frederick Auty Scott, who was born on November 1st 1885. Margaret was a cook; John helped his father on the farm; Annie was a dairymaid; Jeannie, a general domestic servant; David was a miller; and Fred joined the army. William married dressmaker Jessie Campbell Muir, Clay Loan, Kirkwall, and they lived at Lopness. They had two children: Annie Buchan Cumming, born in 1905, and John Campbell, who was born in 1908. William and his family are pictured to the right.

Later occupants of Hurtiso were the Mainland family. Hugh Mainland [1891-1942], Weyland, Egilsay, Gairsay, later Hurtiso, was married to Alice Gibson Craigie [1891-1991], daughter of James Craigie, Falquoy, and Janet Sinclair, Stennisgorn. Between 1912 and 1928, they raised a family of seven children: Janet Sinclair, Alice Craigie, Margaret (Molly), Hugh, William, Dorothy Margaret, and Clara Cathleen.

Janet married Hugh Grieve, Fa’doon, later Saviskaill; Alice died in 1939, unmarried; Molly married James Craigie, Furse, later Dale, Stromness; Hugh married Kathleen Linklater, Kirkwall, and later lived at Sailan; William married Nessie Alberta (Netta) Russell, Brendale; Dorothy married John Inkster, Cavit, Wyre, and later lived at Old School, Sourin; and Clara died very soon after her birth in 1928.

Nearby Sailan, photographed in 1949.

[All black & white photos courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]

[Map Section: Ordnance Survey 25 inch to the mile, 1st edition, Survey date: 1879,
Publication date: 1880 – [Enhanced for clarity] – ‘Reproduced with the
permission of the National Library of Scotland.’]


Bigland, Broland, & Essaquoy


Bigland is a very old Sourin farm, and referred to in the 1595 Rental as being skatted, or taxed, as a 3d. land. Its name probably came from the Old Norse word bygg-land, ‘bere-land,’ the word bygg meaning bigg or bere, a kind of barley.

The discovery on this farm of the now famous Rinyo settlement indicated human occupation from a very early date. This is where we have proof of a quite substantial island population in Rousay over 3,000 years ago. So that might suggest that the name Bigland is not bygg (bere) but bygð, in the sense of a place already ‘settled on.’ Its origin is therefore rather uncertain.

Bigland today – with part of the site of the Rinyo settlement amongst
the rough pasture at the top of the photo.

Bigland was jointly tenanted by David and Hugh Craigie in 1734. In the early 1800’s the land there was farmed by Robert Gibson, paying £21 16s. rent. He was the son of John Gibson and Isabella Craigie and was born in 1789. He married Christian (Christie) Hourston, the daughter of Walter Hourston and Margaret Harcus, who was born on March 8th 1793. Between 1815 and 1835 they had nine children, seven sons and two daughters: Robert was born in June 1815; John, in April 1817; William, in July 1819; Thomas, in November 1821; James, in April 1824; David, in February 1827; Samuel, in August 1827; Margaret, in August 1832; and Mary, who was born in July 1835.

Two views of Bigland and its surrounding land. Above left shows the farm buildings in the foreground; the houses of Breck and Myres; the northern parts of the Holm of Scockness and Egilsay; and the western coast of Eday across the firth. Above right is a southerly view from the Rinyo settlement area, with Bigland nearest the camera, and the prominent buildings of Hurtiso, the Sourin mill, and the farm of Banks in a line above it.

By the time the 1851 census was carried out Robert and Christie’s oldest son Robert and his wife and child also lived at Bigland. On February 27th 1850 Robert married Mary Gibson, daughter of Robert Gibson and Robina Irvine, Langskaill, who was born on July 14th 1829. Their daughter, christened Robina Irvine after her grandmother, was born on March 14th 1851, just 18 days before the census enumerator came knocking on Bigland’s door. Very soon after their daughter’s birth Robert, Ellen and Robina emigrated to Australia, arriving in Melbourne aboard the 841-ton three-masted sailing ship The Sea on August 20th 1851. This voyage was the first of two made by The Sea, transporting English, Irish, and Scottish emigrants to Melbourne. She arrived in August 1851 with single men and married couples under charter to Her Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners. According to the local newspaper of the day’s Shipping Intelligence we are told that during the 90-odd-day passage five births and six deaths occurred, all infants, and from ‘casual diseases’.

Three of Robert’s brothers, John, Thomas, and David, also emigrated to Australia.

John Gibson married Ellen Douglas [born 1827] in Victoria, Australia, in 1854. They had seven children: the first two were born in Collingwood, Victoria, William, in 1855, and John, in 1856. The family then moved to Morang, where their siblings were born: David, in 1859; Joseph, in 1861; Christina, in 1864; James, in 1867; and Ellen, who was born in 1869.

Emigrants arrive with their goods at Queen’s Wharf, near the customs house, in 1854.
Source: National Library of Australia. Image credit: Frederick Grosse.

Thomas Gibson married Mary Ann Cook at the Church of St Thomas, Stepney, in London, on October 19th 1845. She was the daughter of Alexander Cook and Elizabeth Ann Grant, and she was born on December 18th 1825 at St. George in the East, Middlesex, England. They had two children: Thomas Meldon, born c.1846, and Robert William, born in July 1849 whilst living in London. They then emigrated to Australia, arriving at Port Phillip in May 1855. Son Robert William died that year, possibly during the voyage. They set up home in Collingwood, Victoria, where a further five children were born: a second child christened Robert was born in 1856, but died just four years later; Elizabeth Ann was born in 1859; Samuel James, born in 1861, but died within a year; another Robert, born in 1862, but also died very young, just four years of age; and William, who was born in 1863.

David Gibson married Christian Gibson on March 15th 1848. She was the daughter of James Gibson and Christian Hourston, of Brendale, who was born on June 14th 1820. They emigrated to Australia, departing from Plymouth and arriving at Port Phillip, Melbourne on August 18th 1848 aboard the 621-ton barque Cheapside – ‘William Lewis, master, with 233 emigrants; no cabin passengers.’ There they raised a family of seven children: John was born in 1851; James, in 1854; James Cattanach, in 1856; Christina, in 1858; Robert William, in 1860; Mary Ann, in 1862; and Margaret Jane, who was born in 1865.

When Robert Gibson senior died in 1872 at the age of 83, his youngest son Samuel took over the running of the farm, paying annual rent of £27. In 1879 he was paying £50 for Bigland and its 39 acres of arable and 75 acres of pasture land. Samuel married Ann Mainland, daughter of Robert Mainland, Classiquoy, and Julia (Giles) Mainland, who was born on May 20th 1849.

At the time of the 1891 census Bigland was unoccupied. Samuel’s mother Christie died on December 23rd 1881. Samuel retired from farming, and he and his wife Ann moved to Classiquoy, keeping her widowed mother Julia company.

By the turn of the century Bigland was in the hands of Westray-born farmer Peter Sinclair. Peter was the son of master tailor John Sinclair and Betsy Scott, South Ettit, Rendall, and was born in 1849. On November 28th 1872 he married 20 year-old Catherine Bain, daughter of farmer James Bain and Catherine Scott, of Dyke, Rendall. They had two daughters, both born at Dyke: Margaret Ann Linklater, on November 15th 1873, and Jane Agnes Cursiter, who was born on October 8th 1876.

Jane Agnes Cursiter Sinclair. c.1900
Robert and Matilda Marwick & family. c1890

In 1894 Margaret Ann Linklater Sinclair married John Harrold, son of John Harrold and Jane Walker, Kirkha’. They had two daughters: Annie Jane, born in 1895, and Catherine Agnes (Cissie), who was born in 1897. In 1899, 22-year-old Jane Agnes Cursiter Sinclair married Allan Corsie Gibson, son of John Gibson, Finyo later Langstane, and Lydia Craigie, Myres, who was born on December 5th 1861. They had two sons: Hugh Inkster Gibson, born in 1900, and John Stanley Gibson, who was born in 1905.

Son of John Marwick of Woo, later Bigland, and Margaret Gibson [mentioned as being born at Bigland in 1832 in the third paragraph], Robert Marwick was born on July 8th 1861. On May 23rd 1884 he married Matilda Leask Louttit, daughter of William Louttit and Helen Leonard, Digro, who was born on August 7th  1865. They raised a family of six children: Robert William was born in August 1882; Matilda, in September 1884; John, in December 1886; Margaret Ellen, in September 1892; Mary, in July 1897; and Lizzie, who was born in September 1899. Robert C. Marwick was told by their great-grandson that Robert and Matilda failed to win the consent of Matilda’s parents to their marriage until the second child was on the way.

Pictured above left are Hughie and Cissie Gibson. Hugh Inkster Gibson was 24 years old when he married Jessie Alexina [Cissie] Craigie at Furse on April 17th 1925. She was the daughter of John Craigie, Furse, and Ann Seatter Russell, Brendale. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Frederick Fraser, and witnessed by John Craigie, Furse, and Lydia Gibson Baikie, Sourin Schoolhouse. – As well as farming the land at Bigland, Hughie was also an Auxiliary Volunteer in charge of Rousay Coastguard.

Hugh and Cissie Gibson, with their niece Gladys [Hugh’s brother John Stanley Gibson’s daughter],
and farm servant John Logie, Harray. c.1962.


Known in 1562 as Brewland, and Browland in 1595, Broland was an old Sourin farm skatted as a one pennyland. It was occupied in 1653 by John Mainland, and in 1740 by Rolland Marwick.

In 1841 the land was farmed by John Gibson. He was the son of John Gibson and Christy Mainland of Sourin and he was born about 1771. He married Giles (Julia) Grieve of Hurtiso in 1799, and they had seven children between 1800 and 1814: Ann and John were born at Hurtiso on November 29th 1800 and October 17th 1802 respectively. Their five siblings were all born at Broland: William, in May 1805; Margaret, in February 1807; James, in September 1808; Robert, in May 1811; and Thomas, who was born in June 1814.

Thomas Gibson 1814-1900
Thomas’s wife Jane Grieve 1819-1892

John Gibson had passed away by the time the 1851 census was carried out on March 31st that year. Spelled Brawland by the census enumerator, head of the household was John’s youngest son Thomas Gibson. On January 14th 1842 he married Jane Grieve, daughter of Robert Grieve and Ann Work of Outerdykes, who was born on August 22nd 1819. They raised a family of eight children: twins Ann and John were born on December 14th 1843; Thomas, on June 8th 1845; Robert, on November 11th 1847; Mary, on December 1848; Margaret, on December 27th 1851; Jane, on June 14th 1855; and Isabella Marwick, who was born on April 23rd 1859.

Thomas was paying rent of £11 18s 7d a year. Between 1879 and 1887 he was paying £33, but in 1895, when he was in his 81st year, he paid £24 rent for Broland and its 32 acres arable and 21 acres of pasture land.

John Gibson, 1843-1934, Broland, [right] and Malcolm Leonard, Quoys, Sourin, 1839-1927.
John Gibson’s wife Janet (Jessie) Skethaway, 1853-1922

Thomas’s son John married Janet [Jessie] Skethaway in 1877. She was the daughter of Simpson Skethaway and Margaret Craigie, Knarston, and she was one of twins born on December 26th 1853. They had two children: Margaret Jean [Maggie Jane], who was born on June 13th 1877, and Thomas, who was born on June 6th 1880.

In 1905 Maggie Jane married Archibald McCallum Leonard, son of James Inkster Leonard, Quoygray, later Cruannie, and Ann Marwick, Tou, who was born in 1881. They emigrated to Canada, raising a family of seven children in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

On May 9th 1932 Thomas Gibson [born 1880] married Mary Alexina Wylie, daughter of John William Wylie and Maggie Ann McLean, Grindlay’s Breck, who was born in 1911. They were married by warrant of the Sheriff-Substitute of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland at 5, Bridge Street, Kirkwall, by declaration in the presence of James Sinclair Scott, Tankerness Road, Kirkwall, and Clara Clouston Muir, Warrenfield House, Kirkwall. Thomas and Mary raised a family of four children at Broland between 1932 and 1946.

Thomas Gibson (senior), 1880-1958


Variously spelled Ossaque in 1563, and Ossaquoy in 1595, other old rentals mention later occupants – James Mainland in 1653, and George Allan in 1734. This old farm of 24 acres lay immediately north of the old lands of Husabae in Sourin.

This was home to another of Betsy Marwick o’ Scockness’s “ten devils”, this one being Robert Marwick, born on July 29th 1806. On February 6th 1829 he married Isabel (Bell) Mainland, daughter of James Mainland and Christian Louttit of Cotafea, who was born on June 24th 1811. Between 1830 and 1857 they raised a family of thirteen children, seven daughters and six sons: Lydia was born in February 1830; James, in September 1831; Elizabeth, in September 1833; Mary, in June 1835; Ann Mainland, in April 1838; Margaret, in April 1840; John, in June 1842; Robert, in September 1845; William, in February 1847; Isabella, in July 1849; David, in April 1852; Elizabeth, in September 1853; and Isaac, who was born in October 1857.

Robert farmed the land here for many years, and having retired his son David took over the running of the farm. On May 26th 1876, 24-year-old David married Ann Leonard. She was the daughter of George Leonard and Margaret Clouston of Stourameadow and later Triblo and was born in 1856 when the family lived in Quandale. As a small child she was carried across the Rousay hills in her father’s arms when they were evicted from the Westside and moved to Triblo.

David and Ann raised a family of seven children at Essaquoy: Robert was born on February 10th 1877, followed by George on January 25th 1880, Bella, on January 11th 1882, Mary Ann on September 9th 1886, David Baikie on November 16th 1890, William Leslie on May 23rd 1895, and John Hourston, who was born on April 30th 1897.

Between 1880 and 1887 David was paying £16 a year rent, but in 1888 it was reduced by the Crofter’s Commission to £10 8s. At that time Essaquoy was made up of 24 acres arable and 1 acre pasture land.

In the early 1900s David and his family moved to Quoys in Wasbister. The new occupants of Essaquoy were widowed farmer John Mainland, with two of his daughters and a son to keep him  company.  John  was  the  son  of  James and Mary Mainland, Onzibist,  Wyre,  and  was  born  on  January  4th  1839. On November 29th 1868 he married Margaret Mainland, daughter of Magnus and Janet Mainland, Testaquoy, later Cavit, who was born on May 21st 1846. They raised a family of eleven children between 1869 and 1891: Annabella was born in 1869; William, in 1871; Janet, in 1872; John, in 1874; James, in 1876; Magnus, in 1878; Margaret, in 1880; David, in1883; Hugh Wood,  in  1885; Mary Jane, in 1887; and Robert, who was born in 1891. The children’s mother Margaret passed away in 1903.

Pictured to the right is John Hourston Marwick, born at Essaquoy on 30th April 1897, the son of David Marwick and Ann Marwick (née Leonard). Serving with the 58th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps, formerly 13092 Seaforths, he was killed in action near Epéhy in the Department of the Somme on 7th September 1918, aged 21. He is commemorated on Panel 10, Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France – and the Rousay War Memorial.

The name of John’s uncle, Isaac Marwick, is also inscribed on the memorial. Serving with the Mercantile Marine, he died on 25th February 1916, aged 58, in the sinking of S.S. “Southford” (Glasgow), which struck a mine and sank when leaving Harwich harbour.  All the crew were saved, but Isaac died of a heart attack, brought on by the sudden immersion in cold water after being in the heat of the engine room.

Born at Essaquoy on 28th October 1857, the son of Robert Marwick and Bella Mainland, Isaac was married to Sarah Harrold from Rendall. They had two children, Robert and Maggie Ann. Isaac was a blacksmith at Rousay Pier, and was engineer on the steamer “Lizzie Burroughs” for a time. He was later engineer on S.S. “Hoy Head” for many years, and was aboard the S.S. “Southford”, when he met his death.

[All black & white photos are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]



Fa’doon is a croft in Sourin, Rousay, situated on the south-eastern slope of Kierfea Hill, lying at the foot of an abrupt and precipitous slope outside an old hill-dyke. What a view!

William Craigie, a farmer and fisherman, lived here in 1851. He was the son of William Craigie and Betty Leonard and was born at Cruar on November 14th 1807. On January 18th 1839 he married Janet Inkster, daughter of William Inkster and Margaret Gibson of Eastfea, Faraclett, who was born on March 2nd 1816. Between 1839 and 1861 they raised a family of eight children; Margaret was born on October 29th 1839; Mary, on May 19th 1842, but died very young; Betsy, on August 19th 1843; Mary, on October 15th 1846; William, on May 1st 1849; John Ritchie, on October 4th 1851; and James Gibson, on October 22nd 1856.

The family moved across Rousay Sound – to Newhouse, Egilsay, where another daughter, Jessie Ann, was born on May 4th 1861. Her father William Craigie was 54 years of age when he died of dyspepsia on the evening of May 14th 1862. His widow Janet moved back to Rousay, and moved into Mount Pleasant, Frotoft, where she lived with three of her children, William and John, who were sailors, and James, who at the time of the 1871 census was a 14-year-old schoolboy.

In 1864, 46-year-old John Craigie was tenant of Fa’doon, paying an annual rent of £6 for the 7 acres arable and 11 acres of pasture land. He was the son of James Craigie and Betty Marwick, born at Geordroine, Sourin, on December 30th 1817. [That house name is now obscure, though Hugh Marwick places it in the vicinity of the Old School.] In 1861 John married Betsy Sinclair, daughter of Robert Sinclair and Christian Inkster of Swandale, who was born on February 19th 1831. They had three children: Christina, born on March 26th 1862; David on December 21st 1863; and Elizabeth, who was born on February 7th 1871. Before her marriage Betsy had a son, John Harrold, who was born on December 11th 1855. He went to Melbourne, Australia, but after his half-brother David died whilst crossing the Red Sea on May 6th 1884 on his way to join him, nothing more was heard from John.

John Craigie passed away in the early hours of May 4th 1886. At this time the stock at Fa’doon consisted of one horse and two cows, the land covered 10 acres arable and 7 acres outrun, and now Betsy had to take over the running of the croft. On August 6th 1886 her daughter Christina married fisherman William Leonard Grieve, son of Robert Grieve, Outerdykes, later Whiteha’, and Isabella Leonard, Digro, and he was born on August 2nd 1850. Between 1887 and 1908 William and Christina raised a family of eight children at Fa’doon; William was born in 1887, married Ann Leonard Corsie, Knarston, and lived at Digro; John David, born on February 28th 1889, but was killed in World War 1; Robert, born on December 15th 1891, married Catherine Lyon and lived at Cruannie; Mary Ann, born on December 29th 1897, married James William Taylor and lived at Swandale; Isabella, born on March 26th 1900; Hannah Leonard, born on October 16th 1903, married James Irvine and lived in Kirkwall; James, born on April 8th 1906, married teacher Isabella Godsman Craigie; and Hugh, who was born on August 23rd 1908, married Janet Sinclair Mainland, Hurtiso, and lived at Saviskaill.

William Grieve and his wife Christina, with children Isabella, Mary Ann, and Hannah;
with Hughie [centre] and Jimmy [right].
The birth of John David Grieve in 1889 recorded in the Rousay Parish Register.
[Orkney Library & Archive]

John David was a Private in the 1/4th Seaforths. He was killed in action near Flesquières on 20th November 1917, aged 28. He is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial, Louveral, Nord, France – and the Rousay War Memorial.
The Grieve brothers: John [left], Robert,
and William [right].
Sisters: Hannah, Isabella, and Mary Ann Grieve. c1920

[All family photographs are courtesy of Alan Grieve]

Standing are Isabella, Hannah, and Jimmy. Seated are Mary Ann, Bobby, and Hughie.
On February 12th 1920, Robert Grieve was a 28-year-old blacksmith living in Garden Street, Kirkwall, when he married 22-year-old Catherine Lyon, daughter of Robert Watson Lyon and Catherine Lyon of Ervadale. The ceremony was performed there by the Rev John Deas Logie, and witnessed by James Robert Lyon and Mary Ann Grieve.
Mary Ann Grieve with husband Jimmy Taylor, Swandale.
Christina Grieve 1862 – 1954.
James Grieve, Neuks, Sourin, brother of
William of Fa’doon.
Jimmy Grieve [Alan’s father].
4 generations of the Grieve family together in 1950.

Christina is seated next to her son William. Standing behind is his son John
and the babies are his and his wife Mabel’s twins – Sheena and Ian.
[Photo courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]

Lee to Swandale

Lee, Blossom, Swartifield, & Swandale


Lee was the name of a cottage high up on the eastern slope of Kierfea Hill above Digro. Its first recorded occupants were John Pearson and his wife Janet McKinlay, both born c.1786. They were married on December 19th 1806, and had four children: James was born in May 1808; twins, John and Mary, were born in August 1810; and Robert, who was born in August 1813. On February 19th 1833 James Pearson married Mary Leonard, daughter of John Leonard and Isabella Inkster, who was born in August 1809, and they lived at Kirkgate, Wasbister.

In 1854 agricultural labourer William Logie paid 15s. rent for the property and it stayed at this sum all the time he lived there until the croft became vacant in 1871. On January 23rd 1829, William, who was born c.1793, married Janet Marwick, daughter of Magnus Marwick and Christy Craigie, and she was born c. 1790. They lived at Geramont, an old house above Nears in Frotoft, alternatively known as Cathole.

The ruins of Lee, high above Sourin. Digro can be seen below the old stone walls
– and the whole of Egilsay stretches wide in the distance.

By 1861 William and Janet’s son William, a shoemaker, was also living at Lee, but was a widower by then. Born on July 24th 1831, he married Elizabeth Harrold on February 17th 1859. She was the daughter of Robert Harrold and Ann Banks, Cruannie, and she was born on March 13th 1827. They had a son, John, who was born in 1859, but tragically Elizabeth died within a year of his birth. At the time of the 1861 census Elizabeth’s unmarried 36-year-old sister, Mary, was nursing young John.

Circa 1890, Barbara Sabiston paid rent of 1 shilling for Lee and its 1.003 acres arable and 6.411 acres of pasture land. According to notes made by the Laird in his rent book, “the Widow Sabiston applied to become a crofter but was declared a cotter. Her children on Parochial Board relief in 1888.” [A cottar was a farm labourer occupying a cottage and land, supposedly rent-free].

‘The Widow Sabiston’ was born Barbara Harrold on November 7th 1824. She was the daughter of William Harrold and Elizabeth Grieve who lived at Hammermugly. On July 30th 1852, Barbara married 23-year-old George Sabiston of Whitemeadows, and they had seven children; Margaret was born in September 1854; Mary, in February 1855; James, in September 1856; John, in March 1858; William Harrold, in November 1859; David, in July 1861; and Alexander, who was born in April 1863. George Sabiston died in 1864 at the age of 34, and his young sons William and Alexander, at the ages of seven and four respectively, died of diphtheria in 1867, just 12 days apart. Barbara and her son James were the last occupants of Lee – both of whom passed away in 1905.


Blossom is today’s name of a house high on the ridge or shoulder of the hill on the eastern slope of Kierfea, just above the summit of the public road between Sourin and Wasbister. Years previously the croft was alternatively known as Hammermugly, Upper Quoys, and – The Blossan.

The 1841 census tells us that Upper Quoys, as it was known than, was home to William Harrold, a 60-year-old mason and small farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Grieve. William was the son of William Harrold and Mary Ann Mainland and he was born in 1777. His wife Elizabeth was born in 1781, and they were married on March 8th 1811. They had five children; Margaret was born on August 10th 1818; James, on November 26th 1819; Robert, on December 29th 1821; Barbara, on November 7th 1824; and William, who was born on September 16th 1826.

Come the census of 1851 William was described as a 73-year-old agricultural labourer, and eldest daughter Margaret earned a living as a dressmaker, her younger siblings no doubt also working on the land. Oddly enough there is no mention of their mother Elizabeth in this census – or the following one, in 1861 – but she does make a re-appearance at a later date.

A very old photo William and Elizabeth Harrold
with one of their daughters

At the time of the 1861 census, carried out on April 8th of that year, head of the household William was recorded as an 80-year-old former seaman. No wife Elizabeth again, but living with him was his unmarried 34-year-old son William, who was a stonemason. His eldest son Robert, then a 40-year-old miller, also lived at Blossom as the house was then known, and with him were his wife and children. On November 11th 1853 Robert married 28-year-old Mary Grieve, daughter of Alexander and Catherine Grieve, Howe, Egilsay. They had seven children: Elizabeth, born in 1855; Mary, in 1856; Isabella, in 1857; Margaret Inkster, in 1859; Jane Seatter, in 1860; Robert Grieve, in 1862; and William Sinclair, who was born in 1868.

William Harrold died on March 8th 1865. By the time the census of 1871 was taken his widow Elizabeth, then in her 90th year, was back living at Blossom. Her son Robert and his family had moved to Kirkwall, so head of the household was her 44-year-old son William, a man of many trades. Stonemason, dyke builder, watch-maker and tinsmith, William married Betsy Marwick on June 9th 1865. She was the daughter of William Marwick and Jean Work, Outerdykes, and was born on November 29th 1837. They had three daughters: Jessie Ann (Jean) was born in November 1866; Betsy, in June 1869; and Mary Ann, who was born in June 1876. William’s mother Elizabeth passed away at Blossom on February 3rd 1874. William himself died in 1908, his widow Betsy still living at Blossom until she herself passed away in 1922 at the age of 84.

William and Betsy Harrold, with daughter Jean
and her younger sister Betsy, c.1875

William and Betsy Harrold at Blossom, with their daughters Betsy and Mary Ann.
Mary Ann Harrold was 21 years old when she married James William Grieve, Whiteha’, on February 12th 1897. They had a daughter, Isabella, who was born the following year.
Betsy Harrold was 35 years of age when she married John Leith Grey, South Ronaldsay, in 1905. They had a son, John William, who was born in 1907.

Later occupants of Blossom were the Linklater family. John Linklater was the son of John Linklater, Firth, and Catherine (Kitty) Grieve, Howe, Egilsay, and he was born in 1901. In 1921 he married Sarah Ann Mainland, daughter of John Corsie Mainland and Sarah Ann Rendall, Weyland, Egilsay, and she was born in January 1895. They had four children: Sarah Ann (Sally), who was born in 1923; Kathleen, in 1924; Thomas Mainland in 1925; and James Archibald, who was born in 1933.

Sally Linklater and her brother James, with James Low, Lowshouse, Westness.
Sally in the 1940s, with Dorothy Inkster, Hurtiso, later Old School, Sourin.


Swartifield is the name of a small croft on the east slope of Kierfea Hill, north of Fa’doon.  In the early 1800s it was occupied by farmer William Inkster and his wife Margaret Gibson. William originally lived at Eastafea, later incorporated into Faraclett, and he and Margaret were married on February 27th 1801. She was the daughter of John Gibson and Christy Mainland and was born  in 1776. They had seven children: Hugh, who was born in December 1801; Christian (Christina), in January 1805; Margaret, in September 1807; William, in November 1810; Robert, in January 1813; Janet, in March 1816; and Thomas, who was born in November 1819. All the children were born at Eastafea, with the exception of Thomas, who was born at nearby Pow.

Come the census of 1851 William and Margaret were living at Nether Swartifield, she being in the 77th year by the on record as being 81 years of age and described as being ‘helpless.’ Their son Robert, born in 1813, was a fisherman and he lived in the main house at Swartifield with his wife Mary Leonard and 9-month-old daughter Anne. Married on January 11th 1849, Mary was one of the ten children of Peter Leonard and Isobel McKinlay of Digro, and she was born there on October 7th 1826.

In a hand-written land valuation roll dated 1865 Swartifield was spelled Swartaville, and its occupant, paying an annual rent of £1 5s 0d was – Robert ‘Inksetter’. Over the years the fishing became less profitable, and by 1871 Robert concentrated on farming the 30 acres of land at Swartifield, paying rent of £5 a year. By that time he and Mary had a family of eight children: Anne was born in 1850; Samuel, in 1852; James, in 1856; Mary, in 1858; Robert, in 1861; John, in 1864; Jessie, in 1868; and Margaret, in 1871. Their third oldest son Robert drowned in 1868 when he was just seven years old. His body was found off Warness, Eday, after falling from the cliffs close to home. Their oldest daughter Anne died in 1873 at the age of 23. Youngest daughter Margaret died in 1892, aged 21, the same year that her father Robert died at the age of 79. The second youngest daughter Jessie died in 1894 at the age of 26, and her mother, Mary, died in 1909, when in her 82nd year.

Click > here < to read of the problems Robert Inkster had with the laird when re-roofing and repairing the house at Swartifield in 1890.

By the turn of the century Robert and Mary’s son John and his family occupied Swartifield. John Inkster earned his living, not only as a crofter but also as a rural postman. His wife was Shetland lass Jane Irvine, and they married in 1894. After raising a family of eight children they moved down to Essaquoy and later to nearby Woo.


Spelled Swindale in a Rental of 1595, Swandale was a farm in Sourin at the head of the valley between Kierfea and the Head of Faraclett. Hugh Marwick suggests the spelling most probably refers to the Old Norse word svin, swine – hence svin-dalr, swine-valley, and what better evidence of the existence of pigs in that locality is the superbly-built pigsty adjacent to the farm buildings, erected by stonemason William Harrold of The Blossan.

Two views of Swandale: at the foot of the terracing of Kierfea,
with Fa’doon just visible in the centre…
…and a long-lens view of the cluster of buildings at Swandale
viewed from Bigland.

Swandale was jointly tenanted by Peter and John Allan in 1734. Archibald Sinclair was tenant in the early 1800’s. He was the son of George Sinclair of Brendale and later Faraclett and he was born at Wasthouse, Knarston, on May 1st 1752. He married Bell Louttit from Mouncey, Quandale, and they lived at Pow in Sourin, where their children, Robert, James, and John, were born, but they later moved to Swandale.

In the Sheriff Court Record Room in Kirkwall is preserved the record of a litigation (Spence v. Baikies) in 1817, regarding grazing rights in Rousay. From the evidence it appears that Archibald Sinclair ‘had acted as one of the Lawrightmen of Rousay the time of that order of these people in Orkney’. Lawrightmen were responsible, under the baillie, for law and order in their bounds.

The following story concerning Archibald Sinclair is from Robert C. Marwick’s book In Dreams We Moor. In it he appears to be on the other side of  the  law! A great deal of illicit brewing went on in Orkney in Archie’s time and  Excise men were constantly on the prowl trying to  track  down  those  engaged  in  it. A quantity of malt ready for brewing was all the evidence they needed. One day Archie saw an Excise man coming down over the braes towards Swandale farmhouse. He immediately ran to the barn, heaved a sack onto his back and made for the nearby shore as quickly as he could. The Excise man seeing this as a blatant attempt to get rid of the evidence, gave chase. He soon gained ground on his quarry, who seemed to be making very slow progress even allowing for his load and the strong head wind blowing in from the shore. When the gap had closed to a few yards Archie turned and emptied out the contents of his sack, relying on the wind to do the rest. The irate Excise man realised he had been duped when he found himself covered in a thick layer of corn chaff with aans (bristles) that cling to clothing with an infuriating persistence and which are equally irritating to the skin. What added to the Excise man’s anger and, no doubt, to Archie’s enjoyment of the situation, was the knowledge that the ploy had been a mere diversion to give those back at the farmhouse time to find a secure hiding place for the malt.

The unique pigsty at Swandale…
…built by William Harrold.

Archie and Bell’s son James, born in 1783, married Marjory (Maidie) Hourston in February 1808. She was the daughter of James Hourston and Marian Craigie, and was born at Sound, Egilsay in 1780. They had six children: Mary, who was born at Guidal in July 1809; Margaret, at Brendale in April 1813; – and four more children who were born after the family had moved to Newhouse, Frotoft: Janet, in December 1815; James, in August 1818; Hugh, in March 1821; and John, who was born in March 1825. Their father James drowned off Scabra Head whilst fishing in 1825. His son James also drowned, when the Rousay postboat was lost in Eynhallow Sound in 1893.

James’ brother John was born in 1785. On January 4th 1816 he married Magdalene Craigie, daughter of Mitchell Craigie and Ann Mainland, who was born at Hullion in 1791. They raised a family of eight children, and settled at Tratland. John was at Hudson Bay between 1806 and 1813. He returned to Rousay and lived at Breck for a year before going to Tratland.

Archie Sinclair’s son Robert, born in about 1795, was tenant of Swandale in the 1840’s. On November 1st 1819 he married Betty Mowat, daughter of Thomas Mowat and Helen Peace of Scowan, who was born on July 9th 1798. They had three children; Margaret, who was born in August 1820; Robert, in May 1822; and Barbara, who was born in February 1824. Their mother Betty passed away soon after this last date, though no record of her death exists.

On November 10th 1826, Robert Sinclair married Christian Inkster, daughter of William Inkster and Margaret Gibson, who was born on January 25th 1805 at Eastfea, Faraclett, before the family moved to Swartifield. Between 1827 and 1849 Robert and Christian had ten children: eight sons and two daughters. In 1854 Robert paid an annual rent of eight guineas and in 1878 his son Hugh, born in 1849, who was then head of the household, took out a fourteen-year lease on Swandale’s 142 acres of land, for which he paid £35.0.0. a year. Hugh’s brother Thomas, born in 1841, also lived there with his family. Married on June 6th 1873, his wife was Mary Gibson, daughter of Thomas Gibson, Broland, and Jane Grieve, Outerdykes, and she was born in December 1848. They had five children: Jane, born in September 1873; Thomas, in December 1876; Annabella, in November 1879; Mary Marwick, in March 1884; and Jessie, who was born in November 1890.

Annabella Sinclair [born 1879] photographed in
the early 1900s. [Orkney Library & Archive]

Robert C. Marwick tells us the Sinclairs of Swandale had the reputation of being very careful with money, even to the point of being thought tight-fisted. At the time of his death, in 1884, Robert Sinclair had savings amounting to £900, an amazing achievement considering that Swandale was not a good farm and that Robert had raised such a large family on it, and word had it that every penny he made ‘became a prisoner.’ It is said that his father Archie would go about in rags rather than spend money to make himself look more respectable. A story is told of a visitor to Swandale finding Archie dressed in his drawers, busily working away as usual. He had removed his trousers to avoid unnecessary wear and tear on them while he carried out some work in the farmyard midden.

In 1896 Hugh Craigie was the tenant of Swandale and its 43 acres arable and 102 acres of pasture, paying £23.0.0. rent. Hugh Harold Craigie was the son of Gilbert Shearer Craigie, Turbitail, and Jane Gibson, Burness, and he was born in April 1860. As a young man he moved to Balta-Sound, Unst, Shetland, where he was a master joiner. He returned to Rousay, and on April 1st 1886 he married 19-year-old Mary Mainland, daughter of boat builder John Mainland, Cruseday, and Margaret Craigie, House-finzie, later known as Finyo. The ceremony took place at Ervadale where Mary was living at the time; the officiating minister was the Rev. Archibald MacCallum of the Rousay Free Church, and Lydia Gibson and John Mainland were the witnesses. They later moved to Wyre, where Hugh farmed the land of Halbreck. They had two children: Hugh, born in 1886; and Margaret Jean [Maggie Jane], who was born in 1893. Their mother Mary was just 29 years of age when she died at the Balfour Hospital, Kirkwall, on January 9th 1896, having suffered from tuberculosis for almost a year.

On January 15th 1897 Hugh married again. His bride was 25-year-old Elizabeth Craigie, daughter of joiner John Craigie, Fa’doon, and Betsy Sinclair, Swandale, and she was born in February 1871. They had two daughters: Elizabeth, who was born on November 25th 1898, and Mary Ann, born on September 26th 1903.

Hugh Harold Craigie with his second wife
Elizabeth Craigie, who were married in 1897.

In 1915 Hugh and Mary’s son Hugh, born in 1886, married Margaret Johan Marwick, daughter of Robert Marwick, Scockness, and Ann Blalick Hourston, Tankerness, who was born in August 1876. They had three children: Hugh Harold, born in 1917; Annie Mary, in 1920; and George Mainland, who was born in 1922. On March 17th 1916, Hugh’s sister Maggie Jane, born in 1893, married James Robert Lyon, son of Robert Watson Lyon and Catherine Lyon, Graemsay, later Ervadale, who was born in 1896. They had a family of seven children: Margaret Mary, who was born in 1916; Catherine Isabella, in 1919; James, in 1920; Ann, in 1923; Hugh, in 1925; Robert Watson, in 1929; and Elizabeth Craigie (Elsie), who was born in 1932.

From Hugh Harold Craigie’s second marriage to Elizabeth Craigie, daughter Elizabeth, born in 1898, was unmarried and passed away in South Ronaldsay at the age of 36. In 1938 her younger sister Mary Ann married George William Morrison, Kirkwall, and they had a daughter, Hazel Wilhelmina, who was born in 1940.

Hugh and Elizabeth are pictured below in their latter years – and on the right with their daughters Elizabeth and Mary Ann.

James William Taylor and his wife Mary Ann Grieve were later occupants of Swandale. James William was born in Stromness in 1893, the son of coach driver Henry Leash Taylor and Janet Montgomery, and he came to Rousay to work as a gardener at Trumland House. Mary Ann was third oldest of the eight children of William Leonard Grieve, and Christina Craigie, Fa’doon, where she was born in 1897. The house was also the setting for James William’s and Mary Ann’s wedding on February 16th 1923. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. David Simpson Brown, and witnessed by James Grieve, Fa’doon, and Maggie Ann Craigie, Trumland Farm. They had two children: James Gordon, born in 1926; and Mary Isobel (Mabel), who was born in 1933.

James William Taylor and Mary Ann Grieve,
who were married in 1923

Mary Ann Taylor, Swandale, with daughter Mabel [christened Mary Isobel, and born in 1933]; Robert Harvey, Birsay, with son
Berty [also born in 1933]; Hannah Leonard Gibson, Fa’doon, with Vera Gorn Gibson [born 1935];
and William Grieve, Fa’doon, with Mabel Harvey [born 1932].

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


Re-roofing Swartifield – 1890

In his book The Little General and the Rousay Crofters, William P L Thomson tells of estate  regulations  in  general  making  no  mention  of  mining  or  quarrying. In 1881, the laird, Frederick William Traill Burroughs, was optimistic about the mineral potential of his Rousay estate, so a clause was added to the regulations reserving the right of the landlord to open a mine or quarry on a tenant’s land. Later a second clause was added prohibiting mining or quarrying by tenants.

The Crofters Act with its explicit reserving of mineral rights to the landlord coincided with Burroughs’ interest in mining ventures and it was perhaps not surprising that he saw his rights under the Act as a weapon he could use against his enemies. There was a further reason for his action. Estate regulations had previously required crofters to obtain the proprietor’s permission for any new building they intended to erect but, under the Act, this was no longer required. Burroughs was incensed that crofters who had recently been pleading poverty should now be busily engaged in putting up new buildings over which he had no control. On an estate liable to rack-renting, it was never wise that a croft should appear more conspicuously prosperous than its neighbours, and tenants-at-will had hitherto been unwilling to invest in a doubtful future. The new security, however, had unleashed a flurry of building activity.

The matter came to a head over the re-roofing of a house occupied by Robert Inkster, a seventy-six-year old crofter living at Swartifield in Sourin. Both house and barn had stood unaltered for forty years and both were in a very poor state. In the summer of 1890 Inkster and his sixty-four-year old wife Mary Leonard of Digro, took up residence in the barn, With the help of a relative, he stripped the old flagstone roof from the house and set about the work of repair. He had not consulted Burroughs about his intentions and indeed had no legal obligation to do so. The laird first heard about the repairs in a report of what he described as ‘a triumphal procession of some ten carts’ taking stone from a quarry to the house site. Although estate regulations had for some years forbidden quarrying, this clause, like a number of others, had not been enforced and tenants had always been in the habit of opening small quarries whenever they required stone. In Rousay good building stone was plentiful and seldom far below the surface. Burroughs, however, angrily resenting this display of independence, sent his ground officer to warn Inkster and, in a heated exchange, Inkster declared he would continue to take as much stone as he needed.

The laird’s next move was to have a lawyer’s letter sent to Inkster warning him that, unless he gave an undertaking that he would remove no more building stone, Burroughs would obtain a legal interdict against the ‘theft’ of his property. A similar letter was sent to Peter Yorston who was also improving the house and steading on his croft of Oldman in Sourin, where he lived with his wife Mary Kirkness and children Eliza, James, and John. The crofters immediately contacted Kirkwall lawyer Andrew Thomson who was again called on to defend Rousay crofters from their laird. He, however, realising that, no matter how unreasonable the laird’s action might appear, he was acting within his legal rights, informed Burroughs that the veto would be strictly adhered to, but at the same time asked if there was any quarry where Inkster would be permitted to take stone. Would he be permitted to buy building stone or could he open a quarry on his own land? Burroughs was quite open about his intention. The Crofters Act, he replied, obliged the crofters to keep up their houses but the proprietor was within his rights to prevent quarrying and that was exactly what he intended to do.

Andrew Thomson thereupon published the whole correspondence in the press and both local papers were forthright in their condemnation of Burroughs. No legal action was taken against Peter Yorston of Oldman who reluctantly accepted the veto, although protesting vigorously in a letter to The Orcadian. But because Inkster had told the grounds officer that he intended to continue to take stone and was reported to have claimed a right to quarry on his own croft, an action for interdict was brought against him and was granted by the Sheriff. At the same time a further interdict was sought against Betsy Craigie of Fa’doon. In September her son-in-law, William Grieve, was quarrying building material when he heard that other crofters were in trouble. He immediately abandoned the stones he had already cut but, two months later, thinking the fuss was over, he brought them home. In this case the Sheriff dismissed Burroughs’ application for an interdict on the grounds that, although quarrying was contrary to estate regulations, Betsy Craigie, like other former tenants-at-will, had never been given a copy of the regulations nor had she been warned that the traditional freedom to quarry was being withdrawn. Burroughs, in seeking these interdicts, had won the first case and lost the second, yet it would be wrong to think of the honours as having been equally divided. As Sheriff Armour said in granting the interdict against Inkster:-

It may be that a landlord who so chooses to act inflicts great hardship on his tenants, and, perhaps in certain cases, he may defeat the Crofters Act and get rid of a crofter by this indirect means. It appears to me, however, that as the law at present stands, he is within his rights.

The second case had merely established that, before a landlord could obtain an interdict, he had to make sure that the tenant knew the estate regulations or had received a proper warning. The Sheriff’s decision was confirmed by the Lord Advocate when Burroughs’ affairs were once again raised in Parliament by the member for Orkney and Shetland. The Lord Advocate considered that there was no need for fresh legislation since the abuse was not widespread and the landlord was not breaking the law.

With the onset of winter, the plight of seventy-six-year old Inkster was becoming increasingly desperate. He had moved out of his house in the summer thinking that repairs would soon be completed but he now had ten cartloads of stone at his door which he was interdicted from using. In November, while carrying a caizie of peats into his makeshift quarters in the barn, he accidentally stumbled against the doorway of the ancient building, causing the collapse of the whole precarious structure and damaging his household effects. He is reputed eventually to have repaired both buildings using a cargo of building stone purchased in Westray.

The dispute dragged on for years, with Burroughs remaining adamant in his refusal to allow crofting tenants access to quarries. The law having been unable to protect them and Parliament having refused to consider a change in the law, the crofters’ only redress now lay with the Commission. But even the Commission was precluded from immediate action since the fair rents already determined had by law to run for seven years before they could be reviewed. In 1897, when this period had elapsed, seven crofters applied for a reduction in rent on the grounds that the action of the proprietor put them to additional expense in building and repairing houses, steadings, dykes and drains.

The Sheffield Independent newspaper of October 16th 1890 reported on the proceedings within its columns:


General Burroughs, the holder of some crofting property, is creating some excitement in the Orkney Islands by the bad grace with which he receives the decisions of the Crofters’ Commission, which is concerned in adjusting for the Crofters the legal rights which Parliament has given them. According to some recent issues of The Orcadian, copies of which have been sent to us, the General seems to hold himself entitled to thwart the purposes of the Act, even to the exposure of his own foolishness. It appears that the dwelling house on the croft of Swartafiold having become unfit for habitation, the crofter, Mr. John Inkster, took it down and proceeded to erect, at his own charges, a new house with stones from “an old use-and-wont quarry on the commons.” This course was dictated by considerations that might be called personal, but also by regard for the law which imposes on crofters the duty of keeping their holdings in good condition. However, the eye of General Burroughs was upon him, and Mr. Inkster, along with another crofter, was treated to a solicitor’s letter, intimating that if the quarrying was not instantly stopped an action of interdict would be raised, and, over and above, the offenders would be reported to the Procurator-Fiscal for theft. An instructive correspondence followed. General Burroughs was informed of the circumstances under which the quarrying was being done; that the dwelling house had been taken down; that the crofter was house-less; and he was asked – (1) whether there was any quarry on the estate from which the crofter could obtain stones; (2) or, alternatively, whether he might open a quarry on his own croft; (3) whether he might be permitted to use the stones he had already quarried on payment of surface damage or a small lordship. To this the general replied that he could not prevent a crofter erecting any building on his holding, but he could prevent him quarrying stones; and that he was determined to do. This was absolute enough, but the crofter ventured one more appeal, “Was he at liberty to quarry stones from waste or other suitable ground on his own croft?” to which General Burroughs answered “neither on his own croft nor elsewhere.” So, if it be at all within the compass of General Burroughs’s power, the crofter is to remain houseless; he is to contravene the Act by allowing his holding to become dilapidated, or he is to take his fate in his hands and his stones from the quarry and hazard a sentence for theft. The Scottish Leader, under these circumstances, advises the crofter to build his house with the best stones he can get from his croft, and to let General Burroughs do his worst, adding, he could not go to gaol in a better cause. But the gaol is not so easily made ready. General Burroughs, in spite of his tasteless threat, will find it rather hard to prove that a crofter who takes stones from his own croft to build a respectable house on General Burroughs’ property is committing a felony. Whatever be the true motive, General Burroughs is lending a service to land law reform; and if he will only have the crofter clapped in gaol, Radicals will have the more to thank him for.

Writing in his own defence, General Burroughs says: – “My case is this. Some 1900 acres of my land in Rousay have been forcibly taken from me without compensation, and have been handed over to a class of persons who have no more right to it than has any reader of this newspaper. These people are called crofters, and my land has been handed over to them and to their heirs and successors for ever, so long as they choose to continue to pay for it a rent below its market value, and fixed by the Crofter Commission – a Commission consisting of three men, who, contrary to all law until recently in force in Britain, have been invested with the despotic power of a Czar of Russia, and the infallibility of the Pope of Rome, and against whose unjust decrees there is no appeal! And at the mercy of these three men have been placed the reputation and the estates of landowners in the so-called “Crofting counties” of Scotland. He complains that John Inkster and Peter Yorston, who, before the Commission, made out that they were too poor to pay their rent, as soon as they had succeeded in getting it reduced and obtaining fixity of tenure, their poverty was soon forgotten, and they set about pulling down the existing buildings and erecting new ones on his land without consulting him, and without his permission they took stone from his quarries to do this.

The following is extracted from an edition of the Shetland Times dated October 18th 1890:


The following correspondence has passed between Messrs Macrae & Robertson, solicitors, Kirkwall, and Mr John Inkster, Swartafiold, Sourin, Rousay, and Mr Andrew Thomson solicitor, Kirkwall. Messrs Macrae and Robertson, agents for the General, wrote as follows to John Inkster: – “We are informed that you are quarrying stones upon General Burroughs’ property without his permission. If we do not hear from you within five days from this date that you have ceased quarry, we shall raise an action of interdict against you in the Sheriff Court and report you to the Procurator-Fiscal for theft.” To this Mr Thomson replied: – “Your letter of 16th instant to Mr John Inkster, Swartafiold, Sourin, Rousay, has been handed me. The veto put by you upon his quarrying stones in the old use-and-wont quarry on the commons will be strictly observed. I understand you are aware that the former dwelling-house on the croft, having become ruinous, and threatening to fall, has been taken down and that Mr Inkster was in course of erecting, at his own expanse, a new dwelling-house upon the croft in substitution for the old one. In this way he went to the quarry, which he understood had all along been freely open to the whole tenantry. As he is at present houseless, I shall esteem it favour to be informed at your early convenience whether Mr Inkster can quarry stone in any quarry upon the estate, to enable him to re-erect his dwelling-house, and, if so, from what quarry, or alternatively whether he can open a quarry on his own croft. Mr Inkster has about as many stones quarried in the quarry referred to as will enable him to erect his house. Cannot he have these on paying surface damage, or on payment of a small lordship?” Messrs Macrae & Robertson, in answer to this, wrote: – “As we are aware, under the Crofters Holdings Act, General Burroughs is powerless to prevent a crofter erecting any building upon his holding. He can, however, prevent their quarrying stones on his property, and we are now instructed to inform you that if either the tenant of Oldman, or Inkster, the tenant of Swartafiold, quarries or removes or makes use of any stone from General Burroughs’ property, they will be at once interdicted.” Mr Thomson then asked: – “ Would you kindly inform me whether General Burroughs will allow the crofters to quarry stones from waste or other suitable ground on their own crofts?” and, in reply, received the following: – “General Burroughs will not allow quarrying on any part of his lands, either on their own crofts or elsewhere.” The last letter is from Mr Thomson, who says: – “I need not recapitulate the circumstances. These crofters are bound not to dilapidate their holdings. Their houses having become ruinous and dangerous had been taken down, and were in course of being rebuilt in terms of the Act. General Burroughs steps in with threats of both civil and criminal prosecution, both of which are unwise, the letter reprehensible. The result is that these crofters are meantime prevented absolutely not only from rebuilding their houses, but they and others are prevented from draining and improving their land.”

The People’s Journal commenting on the above, says: – People who take an interest in the affairs of the crofters are not unacquainted with General Burroughs. The General is one of the landlords whose high and mighty notions of his rights on the face the earth have greatly helped advance the cause of the Land Law Reform in the North. Of course he hates the Crofters’ Act and everything connected with it, and his latest performance among his tenants is evidently designed to show his contempt for the Act and his desire to get some of his tenants back into the grips from which it has rescued them. Under the statute, crofters are required to keep their houses in good repair. It they fail to observe this condition they may be removed. Now, some of General Burroughs’ tenants are the occupants of tumble-down houses. These they resolved to rebuild at their own expense and for this purpose they took stones from a quarry on the estate which has hitherto been open to the tenantry. The General by all sorts of threats stopped them from taking stones from this quarry, he refused to let them have the stones for payment, he forbade them to open a quarry on their own crofts, and, lastly, he has refused to let stones be taken from any part his lands. What is to be thought of a landlord who thus shows his childish impotence against an Act of Parliament, which the more he kicks against its provisions will be the more strengthened to restrain him from mischief?

Reference was made to
The Little General and the Rousay Crofters
William P. L. Thomson:
(John Donald Publishers Ltd. Edinburgh)
and the
British Newspaper Archive



Digro was a small croft on the east slope of Kierfea Hill, Rousay. Peter Leonard, a 40-year-old wool weaver, lived there in 1841. He was the son of Thomas Leonard and Isabella Inkster and was born in 1798. He married Isabella McKinlay, daughter of William McKinlay and Isabella Lero of Essaquoy, Sourin, and between 1820 and 1837 they had ten children, seven girls and three boys :-

They were; Ann, born on December 3rd 1820, Peter, on August 4th 1822, Cicilia on September 7th 1824, Mary, on October 7th 1826, Isabel, on August 3rd 1828, Margaret Smeaton, on November 9th 1830, Ann, on September 23rd 1833, James, on July 6th 1835, William Smeaton, on August 23rd 1837, and Helen, in March 1841. Cicilia died in January 1825 aged 3  months. Ann died in 1832 at the age of twelve, Margaret Smeaton died in 1845 at the age of fifteen, and William Smeaton died in 1847, when he was ten years of age.

Their mother Isabella died on January 3rd 1873 aged 77 years and father Peter died on December 18th 1882 at the age of 83. They were buried in the same grave as their four young children in Scockness kirkyard.

By now son James was head of the household at Digro. He was a stone-mason and was married to Hannah Reid, youngest daughter of George Reid and Janet Harcus, who was born on December 2nd 1840 at Pow, Westside. They had a family of fourteen children, nine sons and five daughters:

George Reid, born June 7th 1860, died August 11 1879;
John Reid, May 18th 1862, died April 4th 1906;
Hannah Catherine, born March 24th 1864, died February 28th 1936;
James, born November 16th 1866, died March 20th 1962;
Frederick Cunningham, born June 12th 1869, died October 25th 1939;
Isabella McKinlay, born August 4th 1871, died January 29th 1940;
Annie Gibson, born, born September 23rd 1872, died October 20th 1956;
Arthur William, born January 18th 1875, died August 22nd 1879;
William Irvine, born April 11th 1877, died August 23rd 1879;
Alfred, born May 2nd 1879, died August 4th 1933;
George Arthur William, born July 7th 1881, died January 9th 1954;
Edith Harriet Helen Stevenson, born October 7th 1883, died 1960;
Archibald McCallum, born February 17th 1886, died May 28th 1972;
Lydia Reid, born December 18th 1889, died December 31st 1972.

Three of the boys, Arthur, William, and the first George, died within a fortnight at Digro during a diphtheria epidemic in 1879.

As an accomplished singer James was in demand at concerts and soirees and served as precentor at the Free Kirk in Sourin. After the deaths of his children he ceased to take any pleasure in secular music and he became increasingly serious, even melancholy.

Digro lay on the very margin of cultivation, high up on Kierfea Hill, commanding a view over the whole wide sweep of Sourin. Four hundred feet above sea level in Orkney’s cool and windy climate is a considerable altitude. The land was poor and the soil shallow and stony, but the buildings at Digro were good and still stand to this day. The well-built walls and neat flagstone roofs are a testimony to James Leonard’s skills as a mason, as is a miniature water-mill standing behind the original house and supplied from a small dam farther up the hillside.

In 1883 a Royal Commission, with Lord Napier as chairman, was set up to look at the condition of crofting in the Highlands and Islands. When the commission sat at Kirkwall, James Leonard led the Rousay crofters in their evidence regarding the harsh regime imposed on them by their laird, General Burroughs. Napier sought an assurance from Burroughs that he would not take retaliatory action against those who had spoken out against him. Burroughs refused to give such an undertaking, being the only one of the Orkney lairds to act in that way. Shortly afterwards, James Leonard and his large family were evicted from Digro. Unable to find other accommodation in Rousay they left the island and eventually settled in Oban. There James set up business as a coal merchant, a trade in which he seemed to have prospered to the extent of being the owner of the first motor car in the town.

James Leonard and his wife Hannah Reid’
[Photo courtesy of Tommy Gibson]

Tommy Gibson of Brinola is in possession of a letter written by James Leonard in September 1912, which he sent to his sister Isabella who was married to Robert Grieve of Outerdykes. James was 77 years of age when he posted the letter and his sister was in her 84th year when she received it. It shows that he had fond memories of his earlier life in Rousay. He died at Oban in 1913.

My Dear Sister,

It is a long time since I wrote you now but today it just came in my mind to write you a few lines by way of remembrance of long ago. Well, Bello, I have not been well this long time I am bad with Rheumatism in my legs and feet I am lame in one foot but still able to move about. I have had a lot of worry this year between one thing and another. You would have seen in the papers that our motor had an accident whereby a young man was killed. George was driving it but I am glad to say no blame was found against George. Again Alf was driving another day and he stupidly ran the motor in a ditch with three people. He broke my car but wonderful none of the people got hurt. So you see what risks I have had. Mother is like myself bad with Rheumatism but still able to move about. She would venture to Rousay yet if she was well but business is bad with us at present and she cannot go. We are both thinking of seeing you once more but who knows whither that will be so or not. There is One who knows and in His hands we leave the matter.

I sometimes wonder that you are keeping so well considering your age. I should like very much to have a cup of tea with you now and some chickens as I used to get. I may get that at least I am hoping so. George Reid is still with us. He went to Orkney on Saturday. Hannah does nearly all the housework now, but Ma is always about. She (Hannah) gets letters from James regularly. He was saying that he might come and see us this winter if all went well. Now Bello write me and tell me exactly how you are keeping. Can you go to Digro or Faldown yet? Is Willie still Precenting? Do you go to church and can you sing as well as ever? I can sing still if I was in Rousay I would step into my old place and lead you all as I used to do is not that wonderful. Give our love to all our friends Digro Faldown Broland and any one you meet with who still remembers us. Ma and all the boys bids me to send their love to Bello o’ Whitehall. Boys and girls and all like you. God bless us all. That is my prayer Bello and He will bless us. Goodnight just now.

Your loving brother

James Leonard


After James and his family’s eviction, Digro was occupied by his sister Helen Leonard and her husband William Louttit. He was the son of William Louttit and Christina Cormack, Faraclett, and he was born on April 1st 1842. Helen was the daughter of Peter Leonard and Isabella McKinlay, and she was 18 years of age when she and William were married on January 6th 1859. They lived at Faraclett and raised a family of six children: Peter was born on April 3rd 1859; Mary, on November 10th 1860; Margaret, on April 27th 1863; Matilda Leask, on August 7th 1865; Helen, on July 1st 1870; and William, who was born on September 4th 1873. Peter was just seven years of age when he died on the evening of February 20th 1867, having suffered from croup for four days.

Sunrise over Digro on a frosty winter’s morning

At the time of the 1891 census William and Helen were both 50 years of age. Living with them were their unmarried daughters Helen and Margaret. Margaret had a son by joiner’s apprentice Hugh Craigie, Turbitail, later Deithe. Christened Robert William Reid Craigie, he was born on the afternoon of February 8th 1886 at Grain, Wasbister. On May 17th 1892, Margaret married William Learmonth, son of William Learmonth, Westness farm, and Mary Sarle Gibson, Bucket, Wasbister, who was born on August 13th 1865. They had six children: George was born in 1893; William, in 1894; Mary Helen (Cissie), in1898; Robert Alexander (Bertie), in 1902; James Louttit, in 1905; and Leonard, who was born in 1908.

Hannah and James’s daughter Hannah Catherine Leonard, who was born on March 28th 1864. She moved south with
the rest of her family, and passed away on February 28th 1936, at Oban, Argyl.
William Learmonth, born 1894, married Annie McLean, daughter of William McLean and Mary Clapperton. At the time of their marriage at Penicuick, Midlothian, in 1918, William was a grocer’s salesman, and a corporal in the 3rd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, and Annie was a papermill worker.

Later occupants of Digro were stonemason William Grieve and his family. Willie was the son of William Leonard Grieve, Whiteha’, and Christina Craigie, Fa’doon, and he was born in 1887. In 1914 he married Ann Leonard Corsie, daughter of John Corsie, Brendale, and Margaret Jane Skethaway, Knarston, and she was born in 1893. Willie and Ann raised a family of five children: Ann Elizabeth was born in 1914; William, in 1915; John David, in 1923; Thomas Archibald, in 1927; and Margaret Christine, who was born in 1929.

Ann Grieve with children Annie and William
Willie Grieve with daughter Annie a few years later

Prompted by an idea of Robert Craigie Marwick an inscribed stone was erected on the roadside at Digro in memory of the ‘champion of the Rousay crofters’. On August 18th 2001 the stone was unveiled by two of James Leonard’s great-grand-daughters; Christine and Rosemary. Also in the picture below are the then Councillor Robert Cormack, Parish Minister the Rev Graham Brown, the late Jim Marwick, chairman of the community council, and Robert Craigie Marwick.

The inscription reads as follows:

by the people of Rousay
in memory of
James Leonard
of Digro
who was evicted because
of the evidence he gave
to the Royal Commission
which led to the 1886 Crofters Act.
“I will not be cowed down by landlordism…
We are telling only the truth.”


[All black and white photos are courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]


Knapper to Cruannie

Knapper, Grindlay’s Breck, Feeliha’, & Cruannie

Map credit: Edited section of Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1879
– provided by the National Library of Scotland


Knapknowes is the name of a vanished house close to the Westness dyke, just below the Quandale school building. It was also the name of an old Sourin croft, as recorded in a Rousay Birth Register of 1825. That house is now called Knapper, and is situated east of Brendale. Hugh Marwick tells us the Old Norse word knappar, plur. of knappr, meaning a knob, or protuberance, is common in Norse place-names. Knapknowes is a semi-translation of Knappar, and it is interesting to note that the original name has existed side by side with its half-translation, and ultimately outlived it.

The census of 1841 has it spelled Knapnows, and occupied by 45-year-old shoemaker Hugh Craigie, his 50-year-old wife Mary Yorston, and three of their children, twins Hugh and Mary, and younger son Robert. Hugh was the son of Hugh Craigie and Barbara Marwick, and was born c.1793. Married on December 6th 1816 he and Mary had five children: Hugh and Mary were born on April 26th 1819; Peter, in June 1821; Robert, in August 1823; and John, who was born in July 1825.

Hugh’s wife Mary had passed away before the census of 1851 was carried out, he being described as a widowed cobbler/farmer. Sons Hugh, and agricultural labourer, and Robert, a fisherman, were with him though. Ten years on, and the house was called Knapper in the census, the annual rent for which Hugh paid £2 10s.

Hugh’s son Robert was 38 years of age when he married 26-year-old Mary Marwick on May 9th 1861. She was the daughter of Robert Marwick, Essaquoy, and Bell Mainland, Cotafea. They had no children of their own, but adopted Mary’s niece, Lizzie Robertson, after the death of her parents. Hugh Craigie died in 1872, and when son Robert took over the tenancy he was paying an annual rent of £3, rising to £4 10s. by 1879 for Knapper and its 7 acres of surrounding land – though that was reduced by £1 thanks to the Crofters Commission findings.

Woo in the foreground, Brendale above left, Knapper to the right,
and Cruannie above and extreme right.

Lizzie Robertson, mentioned above, was the daughter of John Robertson and Elizabeth Marwick. John, born in 1840, was the son of John Robertson and Ann Hutcheson, St. Andrews, and Elizabeth, or Betsy as she was known, was the daughter of Robert Marwick, Essaquoy, and Bell Mainland, Cotafea. Betsy died at Mesquoy, Netherbrough, Harray, on November 25th 1869, and her husband John passed away soon afterwards, which led to Lizzie’s adoption. Lizzie was 28 years old when she married James Eunson Laird on December 27th 1894. He was the son of John Laird and Margaret Marwick, Brakedale, St Andrews, Orkney, and was born on July 12th 1864.

Robert Craigie died in October 1908 and his wife Mary passed away seven months later. The new tenants of Knapper were retired farmer Hugh Inkster and his wife Georgina. Originally from Gorn and Hammer in Wasbister, then Geo, Westside and now Knapper, Hugh and Georgina had a hard time of it. Robert C. Marwick writes:- ‘The 15 acres of land at Hammer (15 acres) was removed from the Inksters in 1881 and incorporated into Innister to justify the large new steading the Laird had built there. The Inksters, who had been in Hammer for only 3 years, were forced to sell their stock which had been provided by Hugh Inkster’s mother, Margaret, when she gave up Gorn. They lived on the proceeds for a year or two, but they were then impoverished because, Hugh, being in poor health, was unable to work to provide for his large family.  By 1891 they had moved to Geo at Westness and later they moved to Knapper.’ Hugh and Georgina later moved to Myres, where he died in 1933 at the age of 88, as did Georgina within a year when in her 86th year.

Angus and Jeannie Harcus at Knapper with their children John and Clara
Jeannie Harcus with daughter Clara, who married James Seator, with their daughter Martha, born in 1945.

Angus and Jeannie Harcus were later occupants of Knapper. Jeannie, or Mary Jane as she was christened, was the daughter of John Inkster and Jane Irvine and born when they were living at Essaquoy, in 1897. On December 28th 1917 she married farm servant Angus Harcus who, at that time, was a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery Territorial Force. He was the son of agricultural labourer Angus Harcus and Jessie Harcus, New Glen, Westray, and was born in 1892. The officiating minister at the marriage ceremony at Essaquoy was the Reverend John Deas Logie, and the witnesses were John Inkster, jnr, and Helen Craigie. Angus and Jeannie had two children: John Angus, born on New Year’s Day 1918, and Clara Margaret, who was born in 1919. She married James Alexander Seator in 1943.

Angus and Jeannie Harcus of Knapper
Elma Seator with her granny Jeannie Harcus, c.1953


Grindlay’s Breck was a small crofter’s house of one storey and thatched beside the road, halfway up the Sourin Brae on the left. Hugh Marwick, in his Place-Names of Rousay, mentions the Old Norse grind-hliðs-brekka, meaning ‘gate-slope.’ Grind is a common term in Orkney dialect for a gate, and was so used in Old Norse – grind-hlið – a gateway or passageway that was fitted with a gate to close it. This compound, or its variant grindar-hlið, appears frequently in Orkney place-names, usually as a house or farm-name, i.e. Grindally, a vanished house just north of Knarston, and in each case must have been given by reason of proximity to one of the ‘slaps’ or gateways through the old hill-dykes, through which animals passed to and from the ‘hill’ or common grazing grounds. Grindlay’s Breck stands on a steep slope just below the line of one of those hill dikes.

The first recorded occupant of Grindlay’s Breck was John Mowat in 1653, followed by Christie Mainland, who lived at Upper Grindly as it was called then, living on independant means. Come the census of 1851 it was spelt Grindles Brake, and 28-year-old farmer and fisherman Robert Mowat lived there with his wife Mary Yorston. Robert was the son of Thomas Mowat and Margaret Marwick of Scowan, near Knarston, and he was born on April 25th 1822. Mary was the daughter of Peter Yorston, Oldman, and Rebecca Craigie, Hullion, and she was born on July 23rd 1816.

Grindlay’s Breck, looking east across Rousay Sound, the Holm of Scockness, the northern tip of Egilsay,
the Westray Firth, and the western coast of Eday

Robert was paying £4 2s 0d rent in 1887 but the following year after a reduction by the Crofter’s Commission, he paid £3 10s 0d. He died in 1892 and his widow Mary took over the tenancy until she passed away early in the morning of January 25th 1900 – cause of death being ‘old age’. Later that year John Logie became the tenant and he paid £5 5s 0d for the 5 acres arable and 2 acres of pastureland. He was a cattle dealer, and he and his wife Mary had moved from Quoygrinnie on the Westside. Their time at Grindlesbreck was short-lived though, for John passed away in February 1906, and Mary died in February 1909.

The census of 1911 tells of the Wylie family living at Grindlesbreck, though the head of the household was absent when the count was taken. He was most probably at sea, for John William Wylie earned his living as a fisherman. He was the son of fisherman William Wylie [1847-1885] and Betsy Wylie [b.1845], born at North Side, Burray, on the morning of November 11th 1881, and originally came to Rousay working as a farm servant at Westness. His wife was Maggie Ann McLean, daughter of Duncan McLean and Jane Grieve, and she was born on the evening of August 4th 1882 when they were living at Clumpy. John William and Maggie Ann were married on November 18th 1904 when the McLean family were living at Breval. The officiating minister was the Rev. Alexander Spark, and the ceremony was witnessed by John William’s sister Mina Wylie and Maggie Ann’s brother Kenneth McLean.

Sea-faring man John William Wylie
in his younger days.

John William and Maggie Ann Wylie at Grindlesbreck c1923. Their children are, from the left:
Maggie Jane, born 1905; James William, born 1915; Mary Alexina, born 1911;
Magnus, born 1916; and John Robert, born in 1914.

Maggie Anne’s son John Robert Wylie [1914-1947], pictured to the left playing his Genuine Antoria piano action accordion, was a motor mechanic, living in Lyness, Hoy, when he married 21-year-old Gladys Wilson at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, on January 10th 1941. She was the daughter of ship’s steward Robert Wilson, and Lottie Williamina Hamilton. The ceremony was carried out by cathedral locum tenens James Boyd, and witnessed by John Robert’s brother James William, a naval stores officer at Lyness at the time, and Gladys’s sister Lottie, of East Moaness, Melsetter. John Robert and Gladys had a daughter Gladys, who was born in 1942.

Maggie Ann Wylie, nee McLean, in the centre of the photograph, with her daughter Eva (who was christened Evelyn Bruce, and born in 1926) [left], daughter-in-law Gladys, and her daughter Gladys [right]. The photo, [courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive], was taken c.1954.


Feelie-ha’ was the name of a cottage far up on the hillside above the farm of Brendale and croft Grindlays Breck in Sourin and was occupied by Andrew Moss in 1737 and John Craigie in 1798.

In the census of 1841 it was spelt Philihaw, and occupied by 50-year-old widow Mary Craigie, who was living there, by independent means, with her son William, a 25-year-old fisherman. The annual rent at this time was 12s.

Mary was the daughter of William McKinlay and Isabel Lero and she was born in 1788. She married William Craigie of Tou, and they had four children; James, born in 1811, William, who was born about 1814; and Hugh and Isabel, who were born in 1815 and 1817 at Mid Quandale.

In the census of 1871 the cottage was spelt Fillyhall, and occupied by Robert Marwick, a small farmer and fisherman. ‘Robbie o’ Scockness’, as he was later known, was the son of Robert Marwick and Bell Mainland of Essaquoy, born on September 4th 1845. He married 22-year-old Ann Ballick Hourston, daughter of carpenter William Hourston and Mary Ann Rendall, Scapa, St Ola, on October 25th 1866 and they eventually had seven children: Isabella was born in June 1867; Mary Ann, in July 1869; Jemima Baikie, in December 1871; Robert William, in April 1874; Margaret Johan, in 1876; Elizabeth, in July 1879; and Jessie, who was born in November 1882.

The Marwicks moved to Woo, but sadly not long after they did so wife and mother Ann died of peritonitis during the evening of February1st 1892, and was later interred in the Scockness kirkyard.

In 1885 Miss Ann Gibson was the tenant of Feeliha’, paying £2.0.0. for the 3 acres arable and 3 acres pasture, but in 1891, when in her 75th year, she rented the house for just 6d., the land being rented annually by James Leonard, Cruannie, at the cost of £1. Ann was the daughter of James Gibson and Christian Harcus, Brendale, and she was born there on October 29th 1816. She never married, but at the time of the 1891 census she had a lodger to keep her company at Feeliha’, 14-year-old Mary Ann Harrold. She was the daughter of William Harrold, Hammermugly, and Elizabeth Marwick, Hanover, and was born on June 2nd 1876. She later married James William Grieve, Whiteha’, on February 12th 1897. Ann Gibson passed away in 1905 and Feeliha’ remained unoccupied after that. Nothing remains of it today.


In an old rental dated 1653, James Leonard is on record as being the first inhabitant of the small croft of Cruannie, high up on the south-eastern slope of Kierfea Hill, between Digro and Feelyha’.

It is not until the census of 1841 another tenant is mentioned – named Robert Harrold. He was the son of William Harrold and Mary Ann Mainland, and he was born in 1798. He married 34-year-old Ann Banks on January 31st 1822, and they lived at Cruannie where Robert worked as a handloom weaver and mason. They had five children: Mary, who was born in August 1822; John, in December 1824; Elizabeth, in March 1827; Helen (Nelly), born in July 1829, but died in infancy; and another Helen, who was born in December 1831.

Ann Banks died in 1859. She was buried in Scockness Kirkyard and the inscription on her gravestone reads as follows:-

In memory of Ann Banks
who was espoused to Robert Harrold
who died trusting in Jesus
March 31st 1859 aged 73 years

On May 22nd 1860 Robert married Ann Grieve, the daughter of Robert Grieve and Ann Work of Outerdykes, but she was to die eight years later at the age of 47. She gave birth to a daughter Ann in March 1863, but she died herself at the age of 18. They were also buried in Scockness Kirkyard, the headstone reading thus:-

Sacred to the memory of Ann Grieve
wife of Robert Harrold who died
25th June 1868 aged 47 years
also their daughter Ann
who died 9th January 1882 aged 18 years.
“They are preserved forever.”

Five months after his wife Ann died Robert married a third time, on November 25th 1868, which was also prior to their daughter Ann passing away. He was 70 years of age when he married Cecilia Craigie, the daughter of William Craigie and Barbara Craigie, who was born in an unrecorded house in Wasbister in January 1817. Cecilia died in 1880, and as mentioned above, Robert’s daughter Ann died in 1882. Robert himself passed away in 1888 at the age of 90.

By 1891 farmer and stonemason James Leonard was the tenant of Cruannie, having moved from Gorn when it and neighbouring farm of Hammer were amalgamated into the farm of Innister in Wasbister. James was paying £4 rent for his new house and its surrounding 5 acres arable and 10 acres pasture land. James Inkster Leonard was the son of James Leonard, Grain, and Cecilia Inkster, Tou, and he was born on December 22nd 1854 and christened four days later. On November 6th 1874 he married Ann Marwick, daughter of shoemaker David Marwick, Whitemeadows, later Tou, and Betsy Clouston, Tou, who was born in October 1856. The ceremony at Tou was conducted by the Rev. Neil Patrick Rose, and witnessed by William McKay and James Kirkness. James and Ann had seven children: David Marwick, was born at Tou on January 30th 1875; James, at Quoygray on April 4th 1877; John, at Gorn on March 8th 1879; Archibald McCallum, at Gorn on January 23rd 1881 [christened after the minister of the island’s Free Church]; William Arthur, at Gorn on March 16th 1883; Ann Elizabeth Laing, at Gorn on April 14th 1885; and Mary, who was born at Cruannie on August 18th 1888. For reasons that are unclear, firstborn David Marwick Leonard grew up with his grandparents, shoemaker David Marwick and his wife Betsy Clouston at Tou.

James Inkster Leonard and his wife Ann Marwick

The Leonard family at Cruannie c.1898. James and Ann Leonard with sons, back from left: James, Archie, William, John, – and daughters Mary [left] and Annie.

The photo to the right, courtesy of the Orkney  Library  & Archive, shows the Leonard brothers of Cruannie, John, William, and Archie, c1898. Initially I thought that two in regalia were affiliated to a Masonic order, but subsequent investigation leans towards the fact they were involved with a temperance society.

The Temperance Movement was strong and supported by all sections of the Rousay community. Temperance meetings were well attended and a visiting lecturer had once noted that Rousay was a most sober community, although he deplored ‘the filthy rot-gut ale’ which was still brewed by some of the small farmers. The Temperance Movement was particularly associated with the brothers’ one-time neighbour James Leonard, the ‘champion of the Rousay crofters,’ though they were not directly related. After his eviction from the island James Leonard became a paid lecturer of the Scottish Temperance League, in addition to being an official of the Highland Land Law Reform Association The laird was an enemy of any kind of drunkenness and it was his influence which kept the island free of licensed premises. Such was Rousay’s reputation for sobriety that, being an island and licence-free, it ‘was much resorted to as an asylum for inebriates.’

[The Little General and the Rousay Crofters, by
W P L Thomson, John Donald Publishers, Edinburgh,
was referred to regarding the paragraph above.]

John Leonard, Cruannie, and his guests on the road between Westness and Corse. c.1900

In 1905 Archibald McCallum Leonard married Margaret Jean Gibson, daughter of John Gibson, Broland, and Janet (Jessie) Skethaway, Knarston. They emigrated to Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba.
Archie and Maggy Jean with four of their seven children: Anna Mae Jessie, David James, Ivy, and Thomas Stanley Gibson. The others were Marion Bessie, and Verna Gibson. Gordon Archibald Webster, their first-born and a twin of Anna Mae, died within a year of his birth. Photo c.1910
John Leonard, married Annie Gibson of Langskaill in 1904. He died in 1910 aged 31.
Rose Ida Leonard, one of twin daughters born to John and Annie in 1909, a year before their father’s death.

Later occupants of Cruannie were the Grieve family. Blacksmith Robert Grieve was the son of William Leonard Grieve, Whiteha’, and Christina Craigie, Fa’doon, and he was born in November 1891. On February 12th 1920 he married 22-year-old Catherine Lyon, daughter of Robert Watson Lyon and Catherine Lyon, Ervadale, the ceremony being performed there by the Rev. John Deas Logie, and witnessed by Mary Ann Grieve and James Robert Lyon. Robert and Catherine had six children: Kathleen Christine, who was born in 1921; Mabel Leonard, in 1922; Robert William, in 1924; James Arnold, in 1926; George Lyon, in 1928; and John Denis, who was born in 1941.

Blacksmith Robert Grieve, c.1920
Robert Grieve, with his brother Willie and his wife Ann Corsie of Digro. c1914.
Blacksmith Robert Grieve, Cruannie, left, and Hughie Grieve, Saviskaill
Titty Grieve, nee Catherine Lyon, Ervadale, who was married to blacksmith Bobby Grieve, Cruannie, their children Arnold and Kathie, with George on the shoulders of Hughie o’ Saviskaill, Hannah, his sister, and Leonard Irvine her son [centre].
The wedding of Mabel Leonard Grieve, Cruannie, and David Brass Gillespie, Walls, on October 6th 1950. Bestman was Robert Gillespie, and bridesmaid Kathy Grieve, Cruannie.
Robert Grieve, Cruannie, with his mother Christina Grieve, Fa’doon, his daughter Mabel Gillespie, and her daughter Beryl Gillespie. c.1952
Kathy, Mabel, and Bertie Grieve, c.1939
John Denis Grieve, Cruannie, and James Lyon, Ervadale, c.1955

[All pictures courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection – unless otherwise stated]


Ervadale & Brendale


In the 1503 land rental of Rousay, Ervadale was taxed as a 3-penny land farm in Sourin on the southern breast of Kierfea Hill between Wasdale and Brendale. Called Ovirdaill in 1563, and Overdale in another Rental of 1595, Hugh Leonard and James Craigie were joint tenants in 1653, and in 1740 John Craigie was the sole tenant. The land was 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 – the land being valued as urislands (ouncelands) and pennylands – 1 urisland consisting of 18 pennylands.

The house, as it was in 1994

The property was called Irvadale in the 1841 census. It was then occupied by 46-year-old farmer William Inkster and his family. He was the son of William Inkster and Robina Rendall and was born in 1795. He married Margaret Gibson, the daughter of William Inkster and Margaret Marwick, who was also born in 1795. Between 1823 and 1839 they had seven children; Bethynia, who was born in April 1823; Christian, in August 1825; Ann, in August 1827; William, in October 1829; Margaret, in July 1832 [she married John Craigie, son of John Craigie and Marion Louttit, Hurtiso, later Myres, raising a family of seven – all but the first two being born in Unst, Shetland]; James, in March 1836; and Hugh, who was born in February 1839. Hugh had a particularly interesting life, ranging from Ervadale, Rousay, to Greenfield, Shetland, and back to Westness Farm, Rousay. Click > here < to read more about him.

By 1845 the Inksters had moved to Finyo, a house on the farm of Banks in Sourin, and later to nearby Quoys. Arvodale, as it was then spelled in the census, was occupied by 48-year-old farmer John Marwick who had moved there from Banks, and he paid an annual rent of £15.8.0. John was the son of Hugh Marwick and Betsy Sinclair, another of her ‘ten devils,’ born on January 31st 1803. On February 2nd 1829, he married Betsy Mainland, daughter of James Mainland and Christian Louttit of Cotafea, who was born there on June 25th 1806. They had no children of their own, but adopted their nephew James Marwick, who was born in September 1831, the son of John’s brother Robert, whose wife Bell was Betsy’s sister.

James Marwick [1831-1893]
Mary Baikie [1828-1920]

When James Marwick was 25 years old he married Mary Baikie on March 4th 1856, daughter of Peter Baikie and Helen Moar of Evie, and between 1857 and 1865 they had five children: James was born in January 1857 [married Jane Drummond Harcus, North Pharay, and went to Hamilton, Ontario]; John, in April 1858 [married Mary Mitchell, Shapinsay, and went to South Ronaldsay]; George Ritchie [christened after the Rev. George Ritchie, at whose manse Mary had worked prior to her marriage] born in February 1860 [married Betsy Gibson, Knarston]; Robert [married Janet Bertram Johnston, Musselburgh, and went to Victoria, British Columbia], in October 1862; and David Baikie, who was born in November 1865 [he married Elizabeth Norquay, and they went to South Chicago, USA]. At this time James earned a living as a ploughman, and eventually in 1871 he was a farmer in his own right, and head of the household of the 63-acre farm at Ervadale. They lived in Hurtiso for a while, before moving to Bankburn, South Ronaldsay.

In 1881, the land at Ervadale was farmed by John Mainland, who paid £40.0.0. rent for the 43 acres arable and 32 acres of pasture land. John was the son of Alexander Mainland and Janet Kirkness, Cruseday, and he was one of triplets born on February 23rd 1839. His first wife was Margaret Craigie, daughter of Magnus Craigie and Christian Craigie, House-finzie, or Finyo, Sourin, though she died in April 1880. Later that same year, on November 4th, John married Mary Craigie Gibson, daughter of Hugh Gibson [who was a twin], and his third wife Margaret Harcus, Burness, Wasbister, who was born in December 1835 when they were living at Geo, Westside. John and Mary later lived at No. 3 Frotoft, or Brough, and moved from there to Ervadale. They had no children, but lived on the farm with Mary and John Corsie Mainland, the children of John’s first marriage to Margaret Craigie. Mary was born on June 8th 1866, and John on July 28th 1869.

After John and Mary moved to Stronsay, the Moodie family, from Saltess, Lady, Sanday, occupied Ervadale. The 1901 census records Benjamin Moodie being 48 years of age and living in one part of the house at Ervadale with his children, and his mother Janet being kept company by her daughter Janet in another. Benjamin was the son of Benjamin Moodie and Jannet Drever, and he was born on May 4th 1852 at Saltess, in Lady parish, Sanday. In 1882 he married Mary Sinclair, daughter of David Sinclair and Margaret Muir, Tangbrae, Cross parish, Sanday, who was born in June 1853.  She and Benjamin had five children: Maggie Ann, who was born in 1885; twins Benjamin Drever and David Sinclair in 1887; and another set of twins, Mary and James Skethaway, who were born in January 1889. Their mother Mary passed away just before the 1901 census was carried out.

After Benjamin moved to North Folster, Birsay, Ervadale was occupied by Robert Lyon and his family from Graemsay. Robert Watson Lyon was the son of George Lyon and Margaret Linklater of Breckan, Graemsay, and he was born there on November 18th 1855. On February 28th 1885 he married Catherine Lyon, daughter of Hugh Lyon [1816-1898] and Isabella Sinclair of Clett, Graemsay, and she was born there on November 15th 1858. They had five children: Margaret Ann, born in November 1885; Georgina, in June 1888; Agnes, in September 1891; James Robert, in May 1895; and Catherine, who was born in 1897. – Robert and Catherine are pictured to the right in their latter years

In 1916 James Robert Lyon married Margaret Jean Craigie, daughter of Hugh Harold Craigie, Ha’breck, Wyre, later Swandale, and Mary Mainland, Ervadale, who was born in November 1893. They had seven children: Margaret Mary, born 1916 [married Thomas Donaldson, Vacquoy, later Coldomo, Stenness]; Catherine Isabella, born 1919 [first married James Marwick, Innister, then Hugh Mainland, Sailan]; James, born 1920 [later Dounby, married Annie Smith]; Ann, born 1923 [married William Wood, Aikerness, Evie]; Hugh, born 1925 [married Sheila Mainland, Nears, later Hestwall, Sandwick]; Robert Watson, born 1929 [later Clook, Stromness, married Rene Hourie]; and Elizabeth Craigie [Elsie], born 1932 [married John Marwick, Falquoy, later Redland, Stromness].

Catherine Lyon, born in 1897.
Maggie Jean Lyon and
daughter Margaret Mary, born 1916.
The Lyon family at Ervadale, c.1931. Back, left to right: Maggie Jean, Robert, James.
Middle: James and Hugh. Front; Isabella, Margaret, Ann.
Kate Reid, James Reid, George Reid, Thelma Reid, all from Glasgow; Robert Watson Lyon, Isabella Lyon, Margaret Lyon,
Maggie Jean Lyon, all from Ervadale; Thelma Reid from Glasgow; Bobby Grieve from Cruannie.
Standing in front of Margaret are James, Ann, and Hugh Lyon. c.1932.
Catherine Lyon and her granddaughter Elsie c.1936
Catherine and Robbie Lyon, with their daughter Maggie Jean (back, right) Jim and Tina Craigie, and youngsters Jimmy and Anna. c.1940

Beryl Simpson writes: Robert Watson Lyon was my great-grandad through Catherine and Bertie Gillespie’s great-grandad through Agnes. They lived on Graemsay, then moved to Stromness, but moved to Rousay when their peedie lass died and great granny blamed the drinking water for her death. The lived at Ervadale and our great grand parents died the same day [16 May 1943] never knowing the other was dead. Granny said it was hard on them but the best way for them to go. They are buried in the Brinian kirkyard.

Margaret and her younger sister Elsie. c.1936
Back row, from left: James Lyon, Margaret Lyon, Byng Munro.
Front row: Robert Lyon, Ann Lyon with Elsie Lyon in front, and Hugh Lyon. c.1935.
Elsie Lyon playing a tune on her Hohner Student II piano accordion c.1950
Elsie with James, Hugh, Robert, Margaret, Ann, and Isabella, on the day in April 1954 when she married John Marwick, Falquoy.
Hugh and Sheila Lyon’s son Graham and his dog below Ervadale c.1970


Brendale, an old farm in Sourin to the east of Ervadale, was occupied by George Sinclair in 1653, John Moss in 1737, John Craigie in 1739 and Thomas Mowat in 1740.

Hugh Marwick, in his Place-names of Rousay, has a suggestion as to the origin of the name Brendale. Many years ago Rousay land was taxed in such a way that original farmland was split into ‘units’ or subdivisions of some larger original settlement. The very names of two of these – Ervadale and Brendale – tend to confirm such a conclusion. Though the earliest extant spelling of each name would imply that the termination is simply our -dale (or valley : Old Norse dalr), the present-day pronunciation still proclaims otherwise. These names are pronounced locally Brendeal (-dil) and Ervadeal (-dil), whereas real -dale names in Rousay are pronounced -dəl, e.g. Swandale (Swan-dəl), Quendale (Kwan-dəl). But still more convincing is the fact that neither lies in a dale at all; both are situated on the south shoulder of Kierfea! The termination in each case is, then, he suggests, Old Norse deild, a share, portion, divisional part.

In 1845 James Gibson was the tenant of Brendale and he was paying an annual rent of £13.17.0. James, the son of John Gibson and Christy Mainland Marwick, was born c.1781 at Bigland, and he married 24-year-old Christian Harcus on January 9th 1807. This was a common name for girls in Rousay families until the early 1800s when the form ‘Christina’ became more common. They lived at Brendale and had ten children: John was born in December 1808; William, in April 1811; Jean, in May 1813; Ann, in October 1815; Margaret, in April 1818; Christian, in June 1820; Isabella, in June 1822; James, in May 1825; another James, in March 1828; and another James, who was born in July 1829. Sadly all three James’ died in infancy.

James died in 1866 at the age of 85; his wife Christie having herself died in 1861 aged 78. Their 59-year-old son William, a bachelor, took over the running of the 69-acre farm at Brendale, the rent for which, by this time, was £21.0.0. per annum. Living with him was his unmarried 55-year-old sister Ann, 31-year-old niece Margaret Gibson, who was an agricultural labourer, and two cousins, 15-year-old James, who was a farm servant, and Jessie, who was then a scholar nine years of age and also employed as a herd. William gave up working the land at Brendale due to bad health, and ended his days living at nearby Filliehall where he passed away on December 10th 1884.

When William Corsie moved into Brendale in the early 1880s, from Geramount in Frotoft, he had to pay £42.0.0. rent for the farm’s 36 acres arable and 35 acres pastureland. William and his wife Ann Smeaton Leonard were in their latter years by then, eventually retiring from farming in 1889. They then lived in Albert Street, Kirkwall, and were featured on the front page of The Orcadian when they celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in 1913. [Click > here < to read the newspaper report.] The eldest of their thirteen offspring was christened Margaret Mainland Corsie, having been born in March 1854. In 1873 she married Hugh Smith Robertson, son of David Robertson and Barbara Craigie, South Tofts, Egilsay, who was born in September 1847. They had six children: Hugh Corsie, who was born in 1874; Margaret, in 1875; William, in 1876; Elizabeth Jane, in 1878; David, in 1883; and Annie, who was born in 1885.

William Corsie and his wife Ann Smeaton Leonard
Margaret Mainland Corsie and her husband Hugh Smith Robertson

Brendale had a new tenant – farmer John Russell from Evie. He was the son of Magnus Russell and Jane Wood, Craya, Evie, and he was born there on September 13th 1838. On May 8th 1873 he married Margaret Ann Moar Harper, daughter of blacksmith Peter Harper and Isabella Folsetter, Lylie, Birsay, and she was born in 1849. They had ten children: Williamina Wood, who was born in 1874; Lydia Wood, in 1875; Jane, in 1877; Margaret, in 1879; Mary Jane, in 1880; John, in 1881; Ann Seatter, in 1882; William, in 1885; James, in 1888; and Catherine, who was born in 1890.

Above left: John Russell, born 1881. Centre: his brother James on the left, with Willie
Corsie, Knarston, son of John Corsie, Brendale, and Margaret Skethaway, Knarston.
He married Lydia Baikie, Sourin school teacher. Above right: James’ wife
Agnes Munro, mentioned below.

John Russell was 88 years of age when he passed away at Brendale on October 21st 1926. Head of the household then was his son James Roy Sinclair Russell, born at noon on July 27th 1888. On September 4th 1914 he married 34-year-old Agnes Macdonald Munro, the daughter of Alexander Munro and Christina Stephen. The ceremony was held at Old School, Sourin, where Agnes was the postmistress. The officiating minister was the Rev Alexander Irvine Pirie, and the witnesses were Hugh Munro and Mary Gillespie. James and Agnes had four children: Roy Sinclair, who was born in 1918; Hugh Alexander, in 1919; Chrissie Davina, in 1921; and Nessie Alberta (Netta), who was born in 1925.

Aggie and James Russell with their children, Roy, Chrissie, and Hugh,
at Brendale in 1924. In front is Georgina Munro, Breval.

[All photographs courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]