Rousay Shipwreck – 1783

This is a reproduction of a hand-written document describing a shipwreck on the northern coast of Rousay in 1783-84
– and an investigation into the circumstances of its loss…..and plunder.



Archibald Stuart


At Edinburgh the ? day of March 1784

The which day Compeared Archibald Stuart sometime shipmaster now merchant in the Island of Westray who being examined and interrogated Declares that the Declarant left the Islands of Orkney on Friday the 19th [of December 1783] current and came to Leith on board the sloop Ann of Westray, John Seater master, upon Tuesday the 23rd [of December] current Declares that some short time after Christmas last, it was reported in the Island of Westray, that a ship had been cast away upon the Island of Rousay distant from Westray about 8 miles by water. That by some it was said there were people on board the ship and by others that there were none. That about fourteen days after the ship was cast away as aforesaid it was reported in the Island of Westray that a dead body of a man had been thrown on shore from the wreck with the head off and naked. That about 8 days after that it was also reported that another body of a man had been thrown ashore on the Island of Rousay naked. And that the people in Rousay were also said to have rose upon the ships company and destroyed them and plundered the ship but of all this the Declarant knows nothing but by report. This he declares to be truth.

Map showing the three Wasbister houses mentioned in the text, and Grithen – probable
location of the events, the rocky inlet known to have been the site
of other shipwrecks over the years.

Mitchel Craigie tenant in Frothead [Mitchel lived at Hullion, Frotoft] in Rousay presently in Leith Declares that he left the Island of Rousay four weeks on Monday last, and came to Leith from the Island of Orkney on board the William, Kirkwall, Hugh Sclater master, on the 16th day of March [1784] Current. Declares that after Christmas last a ship was wrecked on the rocks in the Island of Rousay, the name of which ship or where she came from the Declarant did not hear. That the 4th day after the ship was wrecked, the Declarant saw a piece of the wreck that had been forced on shore. That the Declarant who lives at about 5 miles distant from the place where the ship was wrecked heard in about a fortnight thereafter that the body of a man wanting the head had been forced on shore, but the Declarant did not see the body. That the Declarant never heard it said or reported that the people of the Country had got up and destroyed the men of the ship or plundered the wreck. This he declares to be truth. The said Mitchel Craigie being further examined by the Sheriff Declares that the Declarant bought some of the spirits and tea which were thrown on shore from the said wreck – the spirits from William Craigie and the tea from Jane Marwick his wife who lives near to the place where the ship was wrecked. This he Declares to be truth.

A stormy day at Grithen – Westray, 8 miles away across the firth.

That in about 10 days thereafter the Declarant heard that the body of a man had been thrown ashore upon the Island of Rousay without the head and quite naked over the body all but a boot on one of his legs. Declared that when the Declarant was on the Island of Rousay he went into the house of Alexander Marwick, tenant in Sibeskill [Saviskaill].That there he saw in a window an English Bible with the name of Robert Kelly upon it and bearing to have been bought in the year 1781 and Galic Book – That these books were all wet over with salt water and the Declarant is positive they came from the vessel which had been wrecked and he mentioned this to the said Alexander Marwick, who said it was not so, But that they belonged to him and had fallen into a tub of water. That it was in the possession of the said Alexander Marwick, William Marwick his son, David Marwick his cousin tenant in the house of Furse, that the Declarant saw the casks of spirits above mentioned, that the Declarant was told by the said Marwick that he had got the Captain’s chest of the wrecked vessel in which he found six ruffled shirts, half a guinea in gold, some silver, a pair of silver buckles and a silver watch. That when the Declarant was at the wreck, there were above a hundred people clearing her up, among whom were the three Marwicks. That the Declarant reproved them for what they were doing and told them it became them better to have set a guard upon the ship and her cargo to protect both and that they would certainly be called to account for their doing so. To which they answered it was Gods send and that he had nothing to do with the matter.

That the Declarant looking upon himself as a stranger in the place he meddled no farther in the matter and being interrogate and solemnly sworn if he heard a report or knew anything about the Country peoples rising upon the crew of the vessel and killing them and bereaving them of their lives Depones that when the Deponent was upon the Island of Rousay as before mentioned he was informed by different persons upon the island that when William Marwick who first discovered the wreck and first went to it, there were two men seen floating in the creek a little from the ship, one of whom was seen breathing and the other appeared to be dead, but that for the sake of the wreck he gave the man who appeared to be living no assistance and allowed both their bodys to remain in the water. And amongst those who mentioned the above to the Deponent were William Irving tenant in Breckan and his wife, George Folster indweller there and a tenant of Graemsey and Magnus Yorston brother to Hugh Yorston Chamberlain to Graemsey was the person who was in company with the Deponent when he went into the house of Alexander Marwick tenant in Saviskaill as aforesaid when he saw the Bible and Galic book. Depones that the naked man’s body wanting the head which was found as before mentioned was reported by the Country people to belong to the said vessel. Depones that the Deponent was of opinion that the wrecked vessel had come from Faro and that she sailed from Faro in company with another vessel who was overtaken by the storm betwixt Blackcraig in the Orkneys and Whillinghead [?] in the Highlands next to Orkney and carried away her bowsprit and bore away for Burray in Orkney where she refitted and put to sea again, after which she delivered her cargo in Loch Squilly [Lough Swilly, County Donegal ?] as the Deponent has since heard. Depones that besides the casks above mentioned the Deponent saw in the possession of Alexander Marwick a box of tea, and five other boxes of tea in the possession of different other persons. Depones that David Marwick is a tenant of Sir Thomas Dundas’s and the other two Marwicks are tenants of John Traill Esq of Westness. This is truth as he shall answer to.

[‘signed’ with, what looks like, a thumb print]

I am indebted to Janet Craigie-McConnell of Victoria, Australia,
for sending me photo copies of pages of this document for
inclusion on the Rousay Remembered website.