Thursday, 9 March 2017

A Scoundrall and a Knave!

Ha! It is always worth checking the copies of the Old Parish Registers as well as the indexes as they often contain extra information. Sometimes you learn the name of the bride's home farm or the groom's profession and you can often find the names of witnesses to baptisms and marriages.

Birsay's baptismal register of 1751 yields much more information to the family historian:

Septr 29th To George Anderson in Swaneyside (a scoundrall a knave a scrub a Rascall a Villain a cheat) a son called Andrew.
N.B. he had been in the Northwest & has been three years in Wascra
(Wascra is a farm in Birsay)

Underneath the slur is written in another hand:

the above George Anderson is as honest, just, obliging man as any other man in this parish.

...which suggests either that the character of George Anderson divided opinion or that all the men in Birsay at that time were a bunch of scrubs.

I had come across the insults villain, scoundrall and knave before in the archives but not scrub. I looked it up in the Scottish National Dictionary for your information:

scrub /skrub / n a guy that think he's fine and is also known as a buster. Always talkin' about what he wants. And just sits on his broke ass

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Magazine of the Month - Northern Scotland

Our wonderful local studies section The Orkney Room is full to bursting of published information about Orkney. So much so, that we have been forced (forced, I tell you!) to keep some of its intended contents through the back. But all you have to do is ask our friendly Archive Searchroom staff for any of these titles and we will graciously retrieve them for you.

One of these periodicals is Northern Scotland, The Journal of the Centre for Scottish Studies. It was first published in December 1972 by the Aberdeen University Press.

And often contained articles and Orkney book reviews. In the very first issue the very first article is, "The Church in Orkney and Shetland and its relations with Norway and Scotland in the Middle Ages" by R G Cant. And the Orkney books reviewed were Orkney Natural History Society's "Stromness: late 19th century photographs" and "The Orkney Croft".

Volume 12 includes articles: "Shetland and the Greenland whaling industry, 1780-1872" by Richard J Smith and  "The development of the fishery districts of Scotland" by J R Coull

Volume 18 includes articles: "Stone Circles: perceptions from inside and outside the ring" by Elizabeth Curtis

Over the years, the cover colour changed, but not the quality of content. And now..

Volume 7 of New Series includes this article: "The Orkney Islands and the European Economic Community in the 1970s" by Mike MacDonald

Now it is published by Edinburgh University Press and the new series is at it's 7th volume. The description inside the current volume we have for 2016 says, "established in 1972, Northern Scotland is s fully peer-reviewed publication with contributors, reviewers and referees drawn from a wide range of experts across the world. While it carries material of a mainly historical nature, from the earliest times to the modern era, it is a cross-disciplinary publication, which also addresses cultural, economic, political and geographical themes relating to the Highlands and Islands and the North-east of Scotland."

Monday, 27 February 2017

Orkney at War (January - June 1917)

The 10th instalment of our "Orkney at War" Exhibition is now available to see upstairs on the Orkney Room corridor noticeboard.
The display shows how Orkney and Orcadians were affected by the war in their daily lives, using items from the Archive collections which were created at the time. Items such as newspaper reports, scrapbooks, council minutes, photographs, letters and diaries.

Here are a few items from the main exhibition:

In the paper in January comes a fresh appeal for volunteers to work with Sphagnum Moss and a photograph from April 1917 to show some of the volunteers who came forward.
The fact was recently brought to the notice of the Orkney Moss Committee that the War Office was asking for more moss dressings than the various depots in Aberdeen and elsewhere could supply. It was pointed out that to send away uncleaned moss did not mend matters, and although the Aberdeen branch turns our ninety sackfulls weekly, this does not meet the requirements.
In October, a large amount of moss was gathered by the Girl Guides, Boys Brigade and Boy Scouts; and the ladies of the committee having decided to ask others to give their assistance in cleaning the quantity on hand, they were given the use of the Free Library Hall where there is ample heating and lighting arrangements. Every afternoon one may now find a "hive of busy bees" there; but the hive is not full. The most industrious can make but slow progress at cleaning, as it is essential that the smallest particle of foreign matter is cleaned away from the moss.

Ref: L4830/1

There is accommodation for a large number of workers, and we appeal not only to the fair sex, for probably there are men whose days of stir and stress are past who would be glad and willing to lend a hand. It has been arranged, therefore, that any afternoon between the hours of 2 and 3, and on Saturdays from 11am to 6pm, one or two of the principal workers will be found in the hall, who will give instruction in the cleaning of the moss. Little skill, but great pains and patience required. Everyone's help is wanted! Go and do your bit!
The Orcadian, 6th January 1917
 Servicemen News:
Sapper James Merriman [aged abt 30 yrs old in 1917], serving with the Canadian Engineers. He is a son of Mr James [and Anne] Merriman, Somiar, Sandwick. [Extra information from the 1901 census]

Archive Reference: D1/1127 Dr. Duncan's WW1 Scrapbook

Sugar-hunting is at present one of the worries which harass the good people who are responsible for house-keeping. Many grocers are at present without white sugar, and the best they have to offer is a coarse-looking compound, almost black in colour, which customers are compelled to take in the absence of anything better. Obviously some people are getting more than their fair share of the available supplies, while a proportion is being wasted on expensive confectionary.
The Food Controller has threatened the rationing of sugar, if voluntary abstinence fails to effect a remedy. Experience has shown that more or less maudlin appeals to patriotism are ineffective where food is concerned, and if sugar tickets are to come, the sooner they are instituted the better. Then people will be supplied strictly in accordance with the number in the household.
The Orcadian 6th January 1917

 Servicemen News:
Private George Stout, a Stronsayman, serving with the Seaforth Highlanders. [The 1911 Census says he was the son of fisherman John and Jane L Stout, Station, Stronsay and was aged 13, so would have been about 20 years old in 1917.]
Archive Reference: D1/1127 Dr. Duncan's WW1 Scrapbook

Margaret Tait's Diary 28th Jan 1917 A New Year has come again. I wonder what luck it will bring. The weather for the last fortnight has been very fine, the roads are as dry as summer. Tomorrow Willie leaves home for Inverness. We will miss him in the house. Been out the Craigiefield road for a walk this afternoon with Bunty [the dog] and the bay was full of foreign ships. The sea was flat calm and everything looked very fine. Everything is pitch dark on the street now, at night you just jostle against everyone. The war is still raging as bad as ever and the end seems far off. Busy framing pictures for the fleet in the Flow. It would be proper dull in town now if it were not for the fleet.
Archive Reference: D1/525
Servicemen News:


Archive Reference: D1/1127 Dr. Duncan's WW1 Scrapbook

FIRTH NEWS - COMFORTS FOR THE SOLDIERS AT THE FRONT During the current winter the congregation of the Parish Church has sent to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh 34 pairs of socks and 5 pairs of mittens for the soldiers at the front; and Mrs Yair, as president, has, for the same purpose, sent to London from the Finstown branch of the Y.W.C.A., 18 pairs of socks, 10 helmets, and 7 pairs of mittens.
Orkney Herald 14th February 1917

Servicemen News:

Sergeant Jack Randall, Canadian Mounted Rifles, who was officially reported missing on June 2, has now written to his relatives that he is wounded and a prisoner in Germany. Sergeant Randall is the eldest son of Mr George [and Mary] Rendall, Hestwall, Sandwick, had been at the front since the beginning of October 1915, and has been twice wounded. [The 1911 census says he was born in Evie and was 17 years old, so would have been about 23 years old in 1917. He must have changed his name when he went to Canada].

Letters to the Editor
Sir, - It may be that during the great offensive which is now imminent on the western front, some of our gallant Orkney lads may be wounded and brought to hospitals in London, or in the immediate neighbourhood.
During the time they are in hospital, far from their friends and relatives, they would doubtless appreciate a visit from a friendly Orcadian.
The Committee of the Orkney and Shetland Society of London has decided to arrange for visits being made to Orkney soldiers or sailors who may be in hospital in London. The Committee accordingly will feel obliged if the parents, or other relatives or friends of these lads will communicate to me the number, rank, and name of any such soldier or sailor, together with his regiment in case of the former, and the particular hospital in which he may be under treatment, and the Committee will make arrangements whereby he will be regularly visited while in hospital, and entertained during his period of convalescence.
All communications should be addressed to me - I am, faithfully yours, WILLIAM MAXWELL Hon. secy. Orkney and Shetland Society of London, 44 Calcott Road, Brondesbury, London, N.W.
Orkney Herald 28th March 1917

Mainland District Committee 


"No. 1153 Gunner James William Spence, No. 5 Company, R.G.A. at present in the first Scottish General Hospital, Aberdeen, is to be discharged from the Army on 18th January on account of Tuberculosis.
As his home address is given as Midhouse, Kirbuster Town, Birsay and as he is not insured under the National Insurance Act, 1911, I am directed by the Board to ask if you will take charge of the case on behalf of the Local Authority of the Mainland District and arrange with the Medical Officer of health for appropriate treatment." [Extract from the minute of the meeting held on the 3rd April 1917] 
Archive Ref: CO3/2/2 Mainland District Committee Minute Book 1907-1919 

Once again the Orkney Mail Service was in the news: 

In the House of Commons on Tuesday Mr Cathcart Wason [Orkney's MP] asked the Secretary to the Admiralty if the Admiralty had commandeered the St. Ola, the mail boat between Orkney and the mainland, and if so, he would state if the Admiralty proposed seriously to leave a very important agricultural county destitute of mail service. 
SS St. Ola leaving Scapa; Ref: TK403
Sir Leo Chiozza Money (Shipping Control Department) replied:- "The vessel in question has not been requisitioned. Inquiries have been made respecting her, and we are in communication with the General Post Office on the subject, which is still under consideration." 
Orkney Herald 2nd May 1917

The 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th instalments are still displayed in various locations around the building and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th instalments, including a special feature of the sinking of HMS Hampshire, are available to see in a folder in the Archive Searchroom. Click on "Orkney At War" in the labels to see more blog posts on this subject.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Youngest Ensign?

Another mystery from our Balfour Blogger...

Box 22 of the Balfour papers contains many bundles of correspondence, tightly tied with old string, unopened for who knows how long.

They are on the whole dull: most relate to the sorting out of North Lowland Fencible regimental financial affairs after the death in August 1799 of Colonel Thomas Balfour. There is clearly much to be sorted and the debate goes back and fore for years and it is blatantly clear just how much Tom Balfour was in the British Army to make money: he argues every penny of bread money, of uniform costs, of lodgings; he is slow to pay his bills; he is quick to claim bounty on recruits. And he may even be the man who can lay claim to recruiting the youngest Ensign in the British Army…………….

Ray Fereday in The Orkney Balfours 1747 – 99 p156 tells of the purchase of commissions in 1794 for the 14 year old John Edward Balfour, son of Colonel Tom Balfour, by his wealthy uncle, John regardless of the fact that Edward was still a school boy at Harrow. Previously he had held the rank of Ensign in his father’s regiment, the Orkney & Shetland Fencibles. His father saw nothing wrong with the duplicity, there are many Ensigns in the service younger than he. (D2 17 Jan 1794, see Fereday Ch 6 footnote 47). An Ensign was the lowest ranking commissioned officer of the British Army of the day.

One explanation of the purchases/recruitment is that the Balfours were seeking to give young Edward a head start in terms of service and seniority, albeit fictitious, against the day when he actually joined the Army. But perhaps it was also to lay hands on his pay?

An even more startling example of the ‘recruitment’ of youthful ensigns emerges from the dustiness of Box 22, bundle no 9, with the story of Charles De Monti.

I have made many forays into the North Lowland Fencibles’ records over a number of years and was curious to see payments to an Ensign Charles De Monti, signed off by the Regiment’s Paymaster on 31 March 1796. It’s an unusual surname and a new one to me – someone worth keeping an eye out for and finding out more about. And why hadn’t I spotted him previously in many other Regimental records?

Next out of the bundle were 2 receipts, signed Edinburgh February 13th 1796, for subsistence to Ensign De Monti, and signed X Charles De Monti. The payments were for the periods 15 November 1794 to 11 September 1795, and 12 September 1795 to 28 February 1796. Interestingly, it was on 15 November 1794 that Tom Balfour was appointed Colonel of the North Lowland Fencibles.
Orkney Archive Reference D2/22/9

Curiouser and Curiouser. Why on earth would an Ensign, an officer, albeit the lowest rank of commissioned officer, be unable to sign his name?  Why too would that X be witnessed by 2 witnesses, being H de Monti and Anne B de Monti? Was he ill and unable to sign?

Next document in the mystery was a letter, also written in Edinburgh, dated February 13th 1796 from H de Monti to Colonel Thomas Balfour. He was now enclosing the two receipts for my Son’s subsistence, which you were so good as to promise you would order to be paid here after having received them.

Orkney Archive reference D2/22/9
Some delving into others of the Balfour and Baikie papers, into Ray Fereday’s most-valuable book and on-line, produce the following scenario.

Tom Balfour had three cousins, the daughters of his uncle Thomas Balfour of Huip. Elizabeth married Robert Nicolson, an Orkney- based trusted man of Tom Balfour’s. Mary married Robert Baikie of Tankerness. Ann married Hurka de Monti.

Hurka introduces himself to the Balfour/Baikie men in a letter of September 1792, explaining that he has come to Orkney to pursue Ann Balfour, who he believes is not averse to my wishes. He is, he writes, descended from a younger Brother of an ancient family of Germany. He served 8 years in Prince Esterhazy’s Regiment, and left it 4 years previously. He has inherited a small landed property in Italy from his mother, which is laden with debt and he has paid many of these debts but yet still I owe about 8 hundred pounds sterling.

It is an astonishing document particularly given that Hurka de Monti is a music teacher in Edinburgh, a profession in which he is forever unlikely to raise £800 (equivalent today £108800) and maintain the means of day to day living. He has made his way to Orkney, laid bare his financial extremity to men for whom every shilling is hostage, and asks for Tom Balfour’s cousin/ Robert Baikie’s sister in law as his wife. And he wins her!

Ann Balfour married Hurka de Monti on 14th May 1793 according to a document from the Baikie of Tankerness papers. In a draft affidavit of June 1801, Robert Baikie, Karen Christie and James Robertson state that Joseph Hurka De Monti and Ann Balfour were married according to the rite of the Roman Catholic Church in Edinburgh on 14 May 1793. Her cousin, the Edinburgh lawyer, and brother of Tom, David Balfour was horrified – but the imminent marriage had been kept from him. On 15 May 1793 David wrote (D2/11/1) to tell his mother of the marriage which had he known of it, he would have opposed … to the utmost of my power. It seems the Orkney men of the family had approved but it is the view of David’s wife, Marion, on 27 June 1793 that they will be a miserable pair. I think the chance is he will go off and leave her. (D2/11/1)

The Affidavit, Orkney Archive reference D24/11/100

In February 1794, Ann was pregnant. (Marion Balfour, D2/8/19). She is pregnant again in February 1795, as round as a ball (Frances Balfour, D2/8/19).

Her first child is Charles.  Given the dates above, he was born sometime between February and August 1794. On 15 November 1794 he was at best 9 months old; at worst 3 months.

Charles de Monti was unable to sign the receipt for his pay because he was unable to write, or even yet to speak or walk! His parents have been helped out by Tom Balfour, or, rather, the British taxpayer, in a breathtakingly, audacious manipulation of Regimental funds.

Hurka De Monti makes a few further appearances in the Balfour records, writing to Frances, widow of Tom Balfour. Ann Balfour de Monti, his wife, does not reappear and it may be that her marriage was not long-lasting, not because he left her but because she did not live long. Perhaps the affidavit in the Baikie papers, dated 1801, was drawn up on Ann’s death to confirm De Monti’s claims on her estate? David Balfour had made sure, after the marriage which so angered him, that any Balfour money was for her and her children, not for her husband. Somewhere in the Balfour and Baikie papers, or maybe with someone who reads this blog, we’ll establish what happened to Ann, but whatever ….  she could claim to be the mother of a remarkable prodigy, the baby recruited to protect Britain from the French.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

We Do Like Biscuits... are You SURE They Like Us?

Some welcome alternative facts on biscuits from the lying advertisers of yore:

Taken from a 1945 edition of The Orcadian.
Maybe living in wartime Britain wasn't as bad as I've always assumed if biscuits were considered a health food.

We've fallen for this nonsense before though...

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Magazine of the Month - Living Orkney

In our local studies section known as The Orkney Room, we keep a number of periodicals.

The Orkney Room
The magazine and journal section is shown on the picture above on the left hand side under the clock. It is ordered by subject using an adapted version of the Dewey Decimal Classification System.
Comfy chairs

One of the magazines available to see is Living Orkney, "the magazine about Orkney life" and Magazine of the Year 2016. We have the complete set from Dec 2005 up to the most recent issue, currently January 2017. It is bound in batches of 6 and filed under number 050 Y.

Examples of Living Orkney

And now, thanks to our wonderful Archive Volunteers, we have an index to every featured article in every copy of Living Orkney. So if you are looking for an article that you know was published in this magazine, we should be able to find it for you, and make a copy. For example by searching for "archive" I was able to find this article below from Issue 12, November 2006, p33-35 with some familiar faces...ahem...sorry...

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Harsh World of 1960's adverts

Wow, these adverts from a 1967 Orcadian are just not holding back are they? I had to wipe metaphorical spittle from my face after reading the second one...

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Beasting for Burns

We like Rabbie Burns and his poetry. Indeed, some of us are going out with him. But, if we are completely honest, the thing we like most about Burn's night is the mountains and mountains of clapshot. This, according to a 1938 edition of the Orcadian is due to our 'animal-like' Orcadian stomachs:

Orcadian, 20th January 1938

Weaklings can only manage a pound of the stuff.

George Mackay Brown loved clapshot so much he wrote a column about it opining that "Everything about clapshot is good, including the smell and the colour. I think this particular clapshot was about the best I've ever made...And it made a glow in the wintry stomach."

By now, all non Orcadians may be screaming at the computer 'What the HELL is this clapshot, it sounds delicious? I want to make it at once!' Behold below F. Marian McNeill's recipe. George put onion in his whilst wondering if it was she who suggested it and she does recommend shallots or chives:

F. Marian McNeill's Recipes From Scotland
Have you ever made clapshot? What is your recipe? Do you think that clapshot is rank? Please get in touch...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

One Last Christmas Treat...

Only one night left of Christmas decorations dear readers! And then what? What shall light up our long, dark, Orcadian nights?

 We're holding out hope for Let it Shine to be amazing on Saturday nights, but what if it's not? WHAT THEN???

We'll await your suggestions whilst curled up in the foetal position and looking at these photographs of folk having a hoot at the pictures. They always cheer us up...

Stronsay Hall, Christmas time, early 1950s- negative no. L2130/1

Saturday film matinee in the Temperance Hall- negative no. L1608/3

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Boring Headlines Of The Weeek! (In our best Harry Hill voices.)

Oh that post Christmas, but pre-New Year slump readers! How to fill it? With these scintillating headlines from our local newspapers of course!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Orkney Archive Advent Calendar - Merry Christmas!

Orcadian - 20th December 1962

Orkney Library & Archive will open again at 9.15am on Wednesday the 4th of January 2017.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Orkney Archive Advent Calendar - A Christmas Farewell

Today we thought we'd  bring you the disembodied, yet Christmassy head of our social media brother, @OrkneyLibrary on his last ever day of working here.


...but then we decided to give him some bodies after all...


Stewart's shift ends at 1pm today (slacker), and so, as he turns in his date stamp, hangs up his key and helps himself from the library till one last time, let us all open the nearest window, crank up the volume and serenade him with this Buck's Fizz classic. Perhaps Storm Barbara will quieten long enough for him to hear it as he stands in the car park, a tear in his eye and that Mavis Riley book he went on about in his arms.

 So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen (pet), good by-ee.

Adieu Stew!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Orkney Archive Advent Calendar - A Hearty Christmas Wish

We do enjoy some hearty good wishes here at the archive. This card was sent to Andrew Slater from Mary Ann and has no date on it.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Orkney Archive Advent Calendar - An Orcadian Christmas Carol

Another treasure from the Ernest Walker Marwick collection. Listen to the Tenston Carol, a Christmas song in Orcadian dialect HERE

The song, recorded in 1966, is sung by Alison Sabiston with words by her mother L.M. Sabiston and music by A. MacLeod. The piano is played by Mrs MacLeod.

Orkney Archive Reference: D31/TR/95/5


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

The Great Escape

In October 2012, Stewart Bain, organised the Crime-writing festival Orcrime, and the Archive staff duly supported this event with an exhibition of crime in Orkney. We hinted here about the adventures of Caleb Isbister, but never told you lovely followers the whole story. Some of the library staff very sportingly agreed to pose for our "Jackie" style photo story. So as we say a fond farewell to Stewart, our great twitterer (who is himself escaping at the end of this week - to a new job), we can hold him forever in our memories pretending to be the dastardly criminal, Caleb Isbister.

In 1807, Caleb Isbister was a very naughty boy...
Would you trust this man?

Caleb, originally from Firth & Stenness, owned a straw-plaiting factory in Caithness and employed Lille Manson to be his manager. Unfortunately he failed to pay her any wages...

"Caleb Isbister, formerly residing at Forster's buildings, London, and lately in Kirkwall stands indebted to the Pursuer - Lille Manson in the sum of one hundred and forty five pounds fifteen shillings and one penny stirling" 

Whar's me money? - Talk to the hand!

Caleb was arrested and imprisoned while the Kirkwall magistrates tried to recover his debts from the sale of his possessions.


"Caleb was incarcerated within the tollbooth of the Burgh of Kirkwall...The magistrates of the said Burgh of Kirkwall disobeying or neglecting the warrant for incarceration or detention, either by themselves or others in their employ allowed such improper latitude and liberty to the said Caleb Isbister as was altogether unwarrantable and at last they permitted him upon the 23rd or 24th day of August last either through connivance or culpable negligence or remissness to leave the prison."

I'm aff

In other words, they let him escape.

"Caleb Isbister, who broke the Tollbooth of this place in August last and effected his escape thereupon, had been apprehended in London, from whence he was conveyed to Edinburgh."
[The cost of retrieving Caleb from London to Edinburgh was £200 - present day value of £6,792.]

Gotcha! You've cost us £200!

The magistrates of Edinburgh then demanded the magistrates of Kirkwall to pay the costs incurred. Kirkwall disagreed. But in court...

"The libel concludes against the defenders [the magistrates of Kirkwall] personally, for payment of several large sums alleged to have been due the pursuers by Caleb Isbister late prisoner in the Tollbooth of Kirkwall."

The Grumpy Magistrates
So the magistrates were forced to pay up. "And the council hereby authorise and empower Provost Traill to draw from Sir William Forbes and Company the sum of Two Hundred pounds Sterling to be applied in payment of Mr Anderson's debursements and in defraying the other expenses"

We have no more records of Caleb Isbister after 1807, but since he could have lived afterwards in Kirkwall, Edinburgh or London, he may turn up in another Archives' records. We know that his parents were Thomas Isbister and Ursula Robertson and that he was christened on 28th Aug 1761. He had four siblings, all younger: a brother Thomas, ch. 9th Sep 1764; a sister Christian, ch. 1770; a brother Robert, ch. 17th May 1772 and another brother John, ch. 9th Jan 1776. The family lived in Firth & Stenness parish.

References used: K7/2/42 - Kirkwall Town Council Minute; SC11/5/1807/84 - Sheriff Court Summons Money Owed to Lille Manson; SC11/5/1807/86 - Sheriff Court Precept of Poinds and Arrestment.

Archiver, Dusty and The Fonds wish Stewart all the best in his new job! We will miss you!