Robert C. Marwick
David Craigie was by all accounts a pleasant and well liked young man. His uncle described him in a letter to a friend as having a lightsome turn and as the best natured lad he had ever seen. Like his elder sister Christina and his younger sister Elizabeth, David was born and brought up on the small croft of Fa’doon with its buildings tucked in under a brae on the lower slopes of Keirfea Hill in Rousay. He attended the General Assembly school in Sourin which was situated across the road from the present school. When school attendance became compulsory in 1872 that building could not accommodate the seventy-ﬁve pupils attending and so, for the next few years until the new building was ready, the school was housed in the Free Kirk. A group photograph taken outside the kirk shows David, then about eight or nine years of age, as a well groomed boy with a pensive and wistful expression.
After leaving school David decided to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming an apprentice joiner. Writing to an Australian cousin at the end of his apprenticeship he complained, “We are working here in Rousay for ten shillings a week and if we had not other help that would not keep us.” In that same letter he bemoaned his inability to save any money, unlike his cousin Hugh Craigie who had served his apprenticeship at the same time. Hugh was later to become one of Rousay’s expert joiners, examples of whose meticulous work can still be seen on the island.
Emigration to Australia was very much on David’s mind as he reached his twentieth birthday in December 1883. For several months he had been in touch with a Tulloch family in Shapinsay, one of whose sons had been to Australia and was then back home. David had visited this young man in Shapinsay and from him had heard many tales of life down under. At this time, too, he was in regular correspondence with his aunt and cousins in Melbourne. Writing to one of them in January 1884 David expresses his hope of accompanying his Shapinsay friend when the latter “returns to Australia shortly.”
In that letter he also describes how he spent New Year’s Day. “We had a very beautiful New Year’s Day here this year and a very happy one. In the morning I went down to Swandale and Uncle Hugh and me went across to the island of Egilsay and spent most of the day there and in the evening we came back and I went to a dancing at Scockness at night.” At that time his sister Christina was a servant girl at Scockness.
David pushed ahead with his plans to emigrate. By the middle of March his passage had been booked on the P&O steamship Orient, due to sail from London on 16th April. He wrote to his cousin asking to be met at Melbourne “because I will be no ways acquaint there.”
Parting came a few weeks later. From his uncle Hugh, David received £5 with which to buy a watch and Christina gave him £6. 10s. which, by dint of hard saving, she had managed to accumulate from her meagre wages. He bade a fond and, no doubt, tearful farewell to his parents and sisters and left Orkney with the Tulloch brothers, arriving in London on 11th April. Next day he called at the shipping office to obtain his ticket on payment of four-ﬁfths of the £21 fare, and in the evening he penned a letter to his sister Elizabeth who was then aged thirteen. “My dear Sister,” he wrote, “I now embrace the opportunity to write these few lines to let you know I am well.” He went on to explain that their stop-over in Aberdeen had been longer than expected due to the London boat having been delayed by stormy weather. David had used this time to equip himself with a waterproof coat thus enabling him to claim that he was then “as well ﬁtted out as my companions.” He also gave his young sister an account of their visit to an Aberdeen music hall, no doubt his ﬁrst experience of the kind. “It was just about as ﬁne a sight as ever I saw. It was a very ﬁne ornamented room and there was two most beautiful girls came out and danced and they could do it.” David asked Elizabeth to tell their mother that he had eaten the hen she had given him but he reckoned he had enough cheese to see him as far as Melbourne.
After ﬁve days in London in the cheapest lodgings they could ﬁnd at half-a-crown a day for bed and board, David and his friends paid the balance of their fares and boarded the Orient at Gravesend. She was a ship of 5,386 tons plying between London, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. [Alan Grieve adds the following information:- David ran out of money in London and wired home for more. His father walked to Frotoft and rowed across to Evie, walked to Kirkwall, drew money from the bank and wired it off to London, walked back to Evie, rowed back to Rousay and walked home all in one day. (Frotoft being the shortest distance by sea to the mainland)].
£21 for a steerage passage did not buy much in the way of comfort and even less of high living. David’s ticket, now in the possession of his nephew, is a document the size of this page. It lists what the steerage passenger’s entitlements were, viz., not less than 15 cubic feet of luggage space, 3 quarts of water daily (not counting what was needed for cooking), and the following weekly scale of provisions:-
Flour 3 lbs
Bread 4 lbs
Salt beef or pork 1½ lbs
Pressed Meat 1½ lbs
Soup & Boulli ½ lb
Suet 6 ozs
Peas ½ pint
Oatmeal ¼ lb
Rice ½ lb
Pres. Potato ½ lb
or fresh 2 lb
Tea 2 oz
Coffee ¼ lb
Sugar 1 lb
Butter 6 ozs
Treacle ¼ lb
Vinegar 1 gill
Pickles ¼ pint
Mustard ½ oz
Salt 2 ozs
Pepper ½ oz
Cheese ¼ lb
Raisins/ Currants ½ lb
Lime juice in tropics 6 ozs
It was stipulated that various substitutions could be made at the master’s discretion, e.g. pressed meat for salted, or rice for oatmeal. Steerage passengers had to provide their own bedding as well as mess utensils such as cutlery, plates, and drinking mug.
The Orient made good time through the Mediterranean heading for the Suez Canal which had been opened ﬁfteen years earlier. The relatively gentle warmth of the Mediterranean spring would no doubt have been a pleasant experience for the Orkney lads who were used to cooler climes. Once through the canal, though, they would have had to face the ﬁerce, unrelenting heat of the Red Sea. The temperature in their cramped, uncomfortable quarters would have forced many of the steerage passengers to spend most of their time on deck. Perhaps the sleep that was denied David in the stiﬂing conditions below decks at night overcame him while he was basking on deck during the day. Unaware of the dangers of sunstroke, especially for someone unacclimatized to tropical heat, he could have remained under these scorching rays until irreparable damage had been done. In a case of sunstroke the body temperature can rise to dangerous levels and this is coupled with severe dehydration. Unless these conditions are quickly and expertly dealt with, death will soon follow. For David, death came on 6th May, only twenty days after leaving London. The victim’s most obvious symptom, delirium, apparently led to the cause of death being given in the ship’s records as “brain fever”. This description is an indication that there was not a doctor on board.
A report of David’s death from sunstroke came ﬁrst to his uncle, Hugh Sinclair of Swandale who had the task of breaking the tragic news to the lad’s mother who was working out in one of Fa’doon’s ﬁelds at the time. Letters that Elizabeth wrote to her aunt in Melbourne tell us that David’s mother collapsed on hearing the news and had to be carried back to the house. Christina was so distraught that she had to be brought home from Scockness in a cart.
Christina’s son, Jeemie Grieve, is the present owner of Fa’doon and spends an extended summer there every year. Now in his eighty-seventh year, he sees to it that the dwellinghouse as well as the outhouses at Fa’doon, all of which have ﬂagstone roofs, are kept in good repair, an act of preservation that is its own reward, and a joy to see.
[Article reproduced by kind permission of the editors of The Orkney View
– issue No 47, April/May 1993]