In Print

Rousay Ghost in N.Z.

Orkney Ghost in a New Zealand Garden

[written in 1959 by an anonymous author]

Just this week I was given the loan of one of those fat weekly illustrated papers which they go in for in New Zealand and Australia. This one, lent to me by Mr R O Watson, Kirkwall, was “The Weekly News” of Auckland, New Zealand – full of bright little articles, pictures, cartoons and so on.

Quite naturally, being an expert gardener, the article which had caught Mr Watson’s eye was headed “Friendly ghost in my garden”. What was even more interesting was that it had a very direct reference to Orkney.

Speaking of cleaning up her garden in autumn, the writer, who signs herself merely Katherine, says, “Often I think of the woman who toiled, nearly a century ago, to carve this garden out of a windswept hillside. For over 23 years she has been beside me – a friendly ghost.

In 1823, away in the Orkney islands, she was born Betsy Marwick, and at the age of 19 she was married there to Hugh Yorston. With six children the couple emigrated in the ‘Alpine’, arriving at Dunedin in 1859.”

The article describes how after arriving the family walked over the hills to Taieri Ferry where they stayed in the hotel before taking the farm high on the hills.

“The father and boys carried the family’s possessions, and the new baby, Richard, born on the voyage, was looked after by the pioneer mother and daughters. Though she lived till she was 83,” the article says, “the mother never again went to Dunedin.”

After twenty years of pioneering the family eventually moved to the building which had first sheltered them, the Ferry Hotel, which they converted to a dwelling-house.

The article concludes, “A semi-circle of huge pines and macrocarpa trees, steadfast against south-west storms, are a living memorial to Mrs Yorston, who planted them long ago. How strange the everlasting green bush in the gully in front of the house and the white waving snow grass on the hilltops must have looked to eyes accustomed to the bleak Orkneys and what a wonderful country where my garden ghost could plant and grow as many trees as she wished.”

Mr Watson said when giving me the magazine that it would be interesting to see if this Yorston family could be traced. He had an idea that they might have come from Rousay.

Shortly afterwards I met Dr Hugh Marwick who read the article with great interest, and the mystery was solved. Hugh Yorston was Dr Marwick’s grand-uncle. Before going to New Zealand he had been to the Nor’ Wast but he returned from there and married Betsy Marwick who, Dr Marwick says, was a cousin on his father’s side of the family. After raising a family they decided to emigrate but the sea chest that Hugh Yorston had had with him in the Nor’ Wast was found to be too big to take with them and it was left here in Orkney. It is still in Dr Marwick’s house at Alton, Kirkwall.

This document comes from the Tommy Gibson Collection.

Elizabeth [Betsy] Marwick [pictured to the right] was the daughter of Thomas Marwick, Woo, and Ann Gibson, Broland, and she was born on October 29th 1823. On April 7th 1842 she married 26-year-old Hugh Yorston, son of Magnus Yorston, Oldman, and Janet Marwick, Corse, and they were on record as living at Millhouse, Sourin. There they raised a family of six children: Julia, born in December 1843; Hugh, in August 1845; Betsy, in December 1847; James, in March 1850; William, in July 1852; and Janet, who was born in December 1855. On June 10th 1859 they emigrated to New Zealand aboard the 1164-ton wooden three-masted general cargo vessel Alpine, which sailed from Glasgow under the command of Captain R Crawford, arriving at Otago on September 12th 1859.

The passenger list for 1859 was not properly recorded. Apparently the Alpine did not seem to have been very well managed and might not have provided a list for records as it seems most ships did. Having said that I have found a modern list of those aboard…….at the following URL:

The Alpine grounded on first attempt to negotiate Otago Harbour and the master was charged with numerous breaches of The Passengers Act 1855.

There has been a suggestion that Betsy and Hugh’s son Richard was born during the voyage. He was in fact born just over a month after landing, on October 17th 1859. There were four births during the voyage, the first born receiving the name of John Alpine Crawford Cochrane Black, after the ship, the captain, the doctor, and the parents. After setting up home in Taieri Ferry Betsy and Hugh raised three more children there: Thomas was born in August 1861; Alexander, on February 14 1864; and Isaac who was born on the same day and month two years later.