The earliest mention of Vacquoy was from a rental document when it was occupied by Rowland Couper between 1734 and 1737. Moving on to the first official census the house was occupied in 1841 by 30-year-old John Gibson, his wife Barbara Craigie, and children Cecilia (8), Alexander (5) and Mary (1). John was the second son of David Gibson and his second wife Isabel Mainland of Langskaill. Barbara’s parents were Hugh Craigie of Lerquoy, Wasbister, and Sicilia Gibson of Langskaill. She and her twin brother William were born on 27 April 1811 when they were living at Grithin. The census of that year tells us John Gibson was a wright, a skilled workman, especially in constructing items, though normally used together with the trade i.e. wheelwright.

Vacquoy was the inspiration for this painting, Croft, Rousay – 1940s, by Stanley Cursiter. Grateful thanks to Sinclair Robertson for allowing me to reproduce it here.

[Kirkwall-born Cursiter was one of Scotland’s most prolific twentieth-century painters as well as being a writer and curator. He was appointed Director of the National Galleries of Scotland in 1930 and King’s Limner for Scotland in 1948.]

1861, and John was now a farmer of 12 acres of land. Daughter Mary was a dressmaker, Hugh an agricultural labourer, while Anne and Isabella were at school.

John passed away in 1866, leaving Barbara to tend 8 acres of land at Vacquoy, with daughters Mary and Anne still living at home. Oldest son Alexander and his family were now living at Vacquoy too. By this time he was 34 years of age, employed as a joiner, and had married Margaret Learmonth of Westness in 1860. They now had five children: Ann, born in August 1862; Barbara, in August 1864; Maggie, in October 1865; John, in August 1867; and Elsie Clara, born in October 1869. In 1877 Alexander paid £6 to rent Vacquoy and its surrounding 10.2 acres of land.

When the census of 1881 was carried out on April 4 widow Barbara Gibson was described as a sixty-nine-year-old annuitant – the receiver of an annuity. An annuity was income paid to a beneficiary at regular intervals, for a fixed period or ascertainable period (usually the lifetime of a nominee) in return for a lump sum payment having been previously made into the scheme by a subscriber – i.e. a spouse, benefactor or employer.

Barbara’s son Alexander was now described as a joiner employing six men, the census revealing other joiners in Wasbister at the time:- John Sinclair of Stennisgorn, David and Hugh Craigie of Burness, Samuel Russell, a lodger at Innister, and John Kirkness of Grain. It was Alexander who designed and built the Wasbister School which was opened in 1881.

The image above left shows mention of joiner Alexander Gibson in the Rousay, Egilsay & Viera section in the 1878 edition of Peace’s Orkney Almanac. [Note the population figure at that time.] The document to the right, dated January 7th 1884, is in connection with Alexander Gibson’s proposed work on the U.P. Manse, now Brinian House.

Alexander passed away in 1887. His daughter Barbara married John Sinclair of Stennisgorn in 1883 and they lived together at Vacquoy. John’s parents were Hugh Sinclair of Newhouse, later Stennisgorn, and Isabella Gibson of Langskaill. Barbara and John had three children; John, Maggie Jessie, and Hugh Alexander. According to the Rent Roll of 1898 both John Sinclair and Hugh Craigie, who was also the tenant of Turbitail, paid fifteen shillings rent for Vacquoy and its extent of land in Imperial Acres – ten arable.

Later occupants of Vacquoy were the Donaldson family. Blacksmith Alexander Donaldson was the son of Thomas Donaldson and Mary Sabiston of Watten, Egilsay, and he was born in 1887. Alexander, or Sandy as he was known, married Maggie Jessie Inkster, first-born child of John Inkster of Swartifield, Essaquoy, later Woo, and his wife Jane Irvine. Jessie, as she was known, was born in 1895. She and Sandy lived at Lower Blackhammer [Manse] for a while before moving to Vacquoy. They eventually had nine children: John (known as Tottie), Mary Jane, Thomas, Clara, Clementina, William, Elsie, Arthur Irvine, and Margaret.

The photo above, kindly loaned to me by Margaret Gray of Dounby, shows her grandfather Sandy and his wife Jessie, with her half-brother Jimmy Irvine on the right. The children are Tommy, Clara, Jeannie, and John (Tottie), all of whom were born at the Manse before the family moved down to Vacquoy.