Poems: To and from Burroughs

The two poems below were given to The Orkney View by Tommy Gibson of Rousay. The first was written by John Kirkness, jnr, tenant of Quoyostray, Rousay in 1853 to the laird, Frederick William Traill-Burroughs. At the time, Burroughs was serving with the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders in this country.

Dear Sir forgive my boldness
For intruding upon you
Who have no sullen coldness
To give you honour due

But though unable for the task
You will excuse me when
Sincerity without a mask
Flows from your tenant’s pen

In Veira Isle and Rousay
You are held in high esteem
For your exceeding kindness
On which we had no claim

What favour can we show you
For your benevolence
I think the best we can do
Is to give no offence

A bonfire’s blaze is little
To exalt your fame
Cheering huzzas a trifle
In honour of your name

Though I give you a name-son
So I hereby propose
That we may daily mention
The name Frederick Burroughs

Yet these are all too little
We poor peasants can do
But as you are the mettle
To venerate the plough

Therefore as I know your wish
I shall not recoil
But try to give an extra push
To improve the soil

And thereby beautify your land
To my utmost extent
And that I plenty may command
For family and rent

I hope you will an answer send
If this you think expedient
Wishing you well Sir I remain
Your tenant most obedient


The second poem is Burrough’s reply to his tenant.
Unfortunately the writing in one place is indecipherable.

John Kirkness I have got
Your very welcome letter
And never has it been my lot
To see or hear a better

And truly am l glad indeed
To learn you’ve got a son
I trust sincerely you’ll succeed
In getting many a one

And if you call him after me
Of which l’m unco proud
A soldier you must let him be
To fight our foes abroad

For Scotland calls on all her sons
To resist the invading foe
To draw the sword and man the gun
And strike the avenging blow

And when our time of service spent
Our battles and our sieges o’er
Our wandering steps will then be bent
To Veira and to Rousay’s shore

No more we’ll follow fife or drum
Or plough the raging deep
But jolly farmers we’ll become
To speed the plough and reap

Then farewell, John right glad was I
To hear from Rousay’s isle
It …… me many a thought and sigh
Tho’ distant many a mile

Now farewell John l herewith send
A sovereign good for my young friend
And hope the Muses will inspire
Him with his Pa’s poetic fire.


There was an ironic twist to the story of the baby named after the Laird. In 1892 Burroughs took Frederick Kirkness (the name-son) to court to try to have him evicted from Quoyostray for bankruptcy but Kirkness applied to the Crofters’ Commission to have the proceedings halted. When the Commission heard his case, his arrears of £52 were cancelled and the £30 rent reduced to £19. Burroughs was not amused!

[My thanks to Tommy and the editors of the Orkney View for allowing this transcription]