Friday, 19 May 2017

Sandwich Week Top Trump

Dusty: Oh archiver, aren't the literary sandwiches the library have been preparing for British Sandwich Week brilliant?

Archiver: S'pose so...

Dusty: You love sandwiches don't you?

Archiver: They're ok.

Dusty: What's up buddy?

Archiver: It's just hard... Loving sandwiches so much and not being able to join in... I checked to see if we had anything relevant to post and there was nothing; just a few jam recipes and a misspelled reference to the parish of Sandwick...

Dusty: What about the letters from the 14th Earl of Morton to the Earl of Sandwich when Morton was imprisoned in the Bastille?

Archiver: WHAT????!!!!

Orkney Archive Reference D36/2/12

James Douglas, the Earl of Morton, was imprisoned in the Bastille for three months in late 1746 according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He was detained alongside his servants, wife and family because he did not have any documents of residency. He seems to have been trapped in France until at least February 1747.

The archive hold a second letter wherein he requests that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich aka The INVENTOR OF SANDWICHES, send him and his servants a passport. But not his wife and children.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

200 Years of Diaries - Favourites

We are pleased to be hosting the 200 Years of Diaries Exhibition in Kirkwall and Stromness Libraries this summer until 11th July. It has been created by artist Dylan Jonas Stone and invites viewers to walk through 2 centuries of diaries from 1800-2000.

We have all enjoyed reading them and have picked out our favourites. This letter is my favourite so far.

20 Novr 1838

Dr. Turnbull,

It is not without reluctance I trouble you with this but I do so at the request of a Lady, & the wishes of a Lady (especially a distressed one) is always a command with me.

I was at Mr W. Mathison’s last Saturday Night & witnessed a painful family scene. Tom Farmer’s wife (who is Mr Mathison’s Daughter) came [into] the kitchen, whilst Mathison & I [were] in the parlour, & we heard her tongue going like a hurricane, abusing poor Miss M. at a furious rate & alarming all the Neighbours – among other elegant Expressions she called Miss M. “a damned Drunken Whore”!! Miss M came into the parlour & complained to her Father, as the only Protector she has, but to my surprise he also [abused her] and spoke very harshly to her & accused her of being Drunk. Now she certainly did appear to me to be a little Elevated but I fear she is driven to it by the crew she is among, & from Vixation.

An intriguing snapshot of a life in 1838 - Who was Miss M? Who wrote the letter? Did Dr. Turnbull help?

The exhibition enables the viewer to wander through every year of two hundred different people's lives: a boy scout writing everything he hears on the radio during WW2; a farmer seeing a car for the first time; all the films a teenager sees in the 1950s; an elderly woman in New England eating Thanksgiving dinner alone; a Belgian schoolgirl on a trip to Paris in 1906 who sees the headlines announcing the earthquake in San Francisco; the flight of schedule of an airline pilot from the 1960s and 1970s and a musician travelling to concert engagements around Europe in the 1980s.

The exhibition includes contributions from the Orkney community and from the Orkney Archive collection, from Thomas Stewart Traill's journal around war-torn France and Spain in 1814 to a Westray man's first trip abroad at the age of 54 in 1993.

We hope you will come in to look at the diaries if you visit Orkney this summer and let us know your favourite too. We will share some of your favourite diary entries on this blog for those of you who can't see the exhibition.

Monday, 8 May 2017

The Mystery of Mary Checkley

Time to don the deerstalker, press your lips to your pipe (a bubble one, of course) and fish out your magnifying glass, as we have a new mystery for you from The Balfour Blogger.

This is a short piece about a letter from the Balfour Papers. It’s short because we have a fascinating letter about which we know very little and we’re hoping that by throwing that little out to all of you, someone’s going to come back with some or all the missing pieces of the jigsaw.

In Box 22, bundle 10, item 15, of the Balfour papers, there is a letter from Mary Checkley at the Malt Shovel, Solihull, near Birmingham, to Colonel Belford, Cork, Ireland.
Orkney Archive Reference: D2/22/10 Item 15 (Click on photo to enlarge)
The letter is dated 16 February 1796 and it says


I have a Husband in your Regiment if living but have sent several letters but can get no answer from him so must conclude he is dead – which if so, please to give me a line and your petitioner will ever pray,

I am Sir Your most Hble [humble] Serv, [servant]

Mary Checkley

I’ve rooted about in Google and have found lots of references to the Malt Shovel at Solihull and it’s clearly an inn  dating back perhaps to the 17th Century but have not yet found a history of the Inn and who might have owned it in 1796, and what Mary Checkley’s connection to it is.

Similarly I’ve looked for Mary herself but other than finding lots of Checkleys around the Midlands, both as a place name and a surname, I’ve not found Mary herself or her husband, alive or dead.

I’ve not found Mr Checkley yet in the records of the North Lowland Fencibles Regiment. He may be in future boxes, still to yield up their many secrets, but he’s not obviously in boxes 1 to 21.

So …….. who is Mary? Who is her husband? Was he dead? Where and when and under what circumstances? Or was he just a bad correspondent? The Regiment was safe enough in Ireland, albeit illness might easily consume a man in the late 18th Century British Army.

And how much concerned was Mary that he might be dead? Did she mind? Was she bereft? Did she have another plan and her Checkley husband was surplus to requirements? Did she have children needing their father home again? What were her financial circumstances? Why had he taken the King’s shilling and left?

She has an elegant and strong hand, if Mary herself wrote the letter, and she expresses herself well, if baldly. She writes with some maturity, but did she write the letter? She doesn’t quite get the surname Balfour right, but even addressed to Colonel Belford, the letter gets to the Thomas Balfour, and she knows she has to write to him at Cork.

These are the bare bones of it all. Can anyone help add to the story? We would very much like to hear from you.
Posted on behalf of the Balfour Blogger.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Biscuity Nonsense

The next time someone tries to wrestle the 20th biscuit from your hand you can now shout 'Do you want me to be a dental cripple? Well, DO YOU?!!'

You're welcome.

Taken from a 1968 Orcadian.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Magnus 900 - Research Sources Part 1

This year marks the 900th Anniversary of the death of Earl Magnus of Orkney. The Orkney Archive and Orkney Room have many sources of information in connection with Earl Magnus, some of which I will share with you below:

In Magnus Saga the Life of St Magnus, Earl of Orkney 1075-1116 Palsson and Edwards sums up the story on the back page,
  "The Norwegian's held sway in the most northerly areas of present-day Scotland for 600 years, from the 9th century to 1469. And in this earldom of Orkney, Magnus Erlendsson (St Magnus of Orkney), was in every way a central figure.
   ...His father fought on the Norwegian side at the battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. He himself ruled as Earl of Orkney with his cousin Haakon, following an early life of piracy and Viking expeditions and a time living at the court of King Malcolm III of Scotland.
     But this biography written in Icelandic in about 1250, is particularly concerned with the execution of Magnus which took place on the island on Egilsay in 1116 or 1117 and which led to his veneration in every part of the Scandinavian world, and to the building of the great cathedral in Kirkwall.
    ...St Magnus Day is still celebrated on the 16th April."

He is described as "a man of extraordinary distinction, tall, with a fine, intelligent look about him. He was a man of strict virtue, successful in war, wise, eloquent, generous and magnanimous, open-handed with money and sound with advice, and altogether the most popular of men." (p83 of Orkneyinga Saga The History of the Earls of Orkney Translated by Palsson and Edwards)

He offered himself as a martyr to Earl Hakon, when their joint rule fell apart, "'There's still one offer left for me to make', said Magnus, 'God knows that I'm more concerned with the welfare of your soul than with saving my life. For your own sake, have me mutilated in any way you choose, rather than take my life or else blind me and lock me in a dungeon'
I'll accept these terms', said Hakon, 'and make no further conditions'"
To the man told to kill him, Magnus said, "This is nothing to weep over, a deed like this can only bring fame to the man who carries it out. Show yourself a man of spirit and you can have my clothes according to the old laws and customs. ... Stand in front of me and strike me hard on the head, it's not fitting for a chieftain to be beheaded like a thief."
 (p87-8 of Orkneyinga Saga The History of the Earls of Orkney Translated by Palsson and Edwards)

Magnus was killed and his bones left on Egilsay.

Traditions grew up around the place where he was slain. Ernest Marwick has collected a few which can be see in D31/37/1 Folder entitled St Magnus - Traditions and Pictures containing press cuttings, notes, pamphlets, photographs and correspondence here in the Orkney Archive:

"There was a legend that when Magnus was slain on Egilsay his blood stained the daisies red, and that in the place a lovely thornless rose grew which flowered each Christmas morning. If a leaf was plucked while the dew was still on it, it would cure black death and leprosy"

"That one will always find an open flower growing there."

Egilsay Kirk drawn by Dryden in 1894

On the instructions of his mother, Thora, Magnus' bones were moved from Egilsay to Birsay and buried there. They were probably taken by boat from Egilsay to Evie.

Ernest Marwick collected traditions in St Magnus Folder reference D31/37/1 regarding resting-places of the body of St Magnus on the way from Evie to Birsay. From an interview with Mrs Matches of Brochlea, Birsay in 1972 he gained this story:

"There was a Mans Stone at Crowdue between eighty and a hundred years ago. Robert Harvey of Crowdue decided to break it up because it was near the old road, and something of an impediment to the traffic on the road. He was warned by auld Ibbie o Moosakelda to desist for it was a sacred stone. A splinter of it entered his hand between the thumb and forefinger and he died a week later of lockjaw."

In the John Mooney papers, reference D49/1/11, there is a bundle of correspondence and press cuttings received by him following the publication of "St Magnus, Earl of Orkney" in 1936. It includes a letter from J. Graham Callander, National Museums of Antiquities, Edinburgh regarding discoveries at Garth, Nether Brough; and mention of a symbol stone found at the Brough of Birsay, 22 May 1936.

"Magnus Saga" says: "The body of Earl Magnus was carried to Birsay and given burial at Christ Church, which Earl Thorfinn had built."

TK3036 Photo of Birsay Village
Then "Magnus' Saga" mentions the sanctification of St Magnus on St Lucy's Day, December 13th, over 20 years after his death by Bishop William and later still: 'After Earl Rognvald Kali, nephew of the Holy Earl Magnus, had come to power in Orkney and settled down, he had the ground-plan drawn up for St. Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall and hired builders for the work. The structure progressed rapidly and well; it is a remarkable building, on which great pains were bestowed, and later the holy relics of Earl Magnus were transferred to it. Many miracles continued to take place there. Nowadays it is the episcopal seat, the same that used to be at Christ Church in Birsay."

More traditions collected by Ernest Marwick in the St Magnus Folder D31/37/1:
"Sigurd Tandrisson was the name of a farmer who lived at Dale in Shetland. He became so mad and violent that he had to be sewn up in a cow-hide. He was brought like that to the shrine of St Magnus, and there he got back his wits and full health, and went away quite whole."

and from Mrs Matches again:
Birsay to Kirkwall
"The procession went by the Strathyre stane. They crossed through Greeny, and there was a resting-place between the Mill of Housby and the Loch of Sabiston."

St Magnus Stone
"This broken earth-fast stone marks, according to local tradition, the first resting place of the procession, when the relics of St Magnus were brought from Birsay to Kirkwall. It is in a field below the house called Strathyre in Birsay."
[Caption to photograph above, written by Ernest Marwick, D31/37/1]

Blessing the Stones
"My old teacher, Miss Stanger of Wrangleha, who was a very careful body about her facts, often said that there was an old Birsay tradition that the stones that were set up to show the places where the body of St Magnus rested had oil poured over them and they were blessed. After that everybody looked on them as sacred and nobody would touch them."

From William Sabiston, Swartabreck, Birsay in 1968, "MANSEWAL (MANSE = MAGNUS; WAL = WELL) along public road not far from Mill Cottage on road to Wattle. Said to be a traditional resting place for the bearers of the remains St Magnus on the road to Kirkwall."

Ink drawing of St Magnus Cathedral by Alexander McGibbon from Magazine, "The Builder" Oct 7, 1893 (Orkney Room 726.6 Y)
Sources used in this blog:
Orkneyinga Saga The History of the Earls of Orkney Translated from the Icelandic and introduced by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, pub 1978. Orkney Room reference 839 ORK

Magnus' Saga - The Life of St Magnus, Earl of Orkney 1075-116 Translated by Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards, published by the Kirk Session of St Magnus Cathedral in 1996, 0952816407. Orkney Room reference: 839 ORK

Ernest Walker Marwick Archive Collection - reference D31/37/1 Folder Entitled St. Magnus - Traditions and Pictures containing press cuttings, notes, pamphlets, photographs and correspondence.

John Mooney Archive Collection - reference D49/1/11 Bundle of correspondence and press cuttings received by John Mooney following publication of St Magnus, Earl of Orkney in 1936

Papers regarding St Magnus Cathedral containing pages from The Builder, 7 Oct 1893, p261-264. Orkney Room reference: 726.6 Y

We currently have a small display of books which mention Earl or St Magnus in the Orkney Room. Please feel free to pick any up to look at if you are visiting. If you would like to see some archives during your visit just ask a member of staff in the Archive Searchroom who will show you the list. The Archive Searchroom is closed on Wednesdays, but there is still access to the Orkney Room.

Magnus 900 - Research sources Part 2 - will cover Hymns, Bones, and Pageants.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

2B Or Not 2B? Ode To Our Favourite Pencil

I’m the archive 2B pencil

I’ve been here 15 years!

If a reader ever pinched me

Dusty would weep real tears.

You see, I’m dark enough to see,

Yet soft enough to erase,

So I leave no mark behind me

On an archive’s precious page.

I’m this archive’s  trusty friend,

Tho’ I be but old and wee.

To the bitter, shavings-filled end,

Orkney Archive’s faithful 2B!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The (Not so) Wonderful World of 1940s Adverts (Part 5)

It took me aaaaages to realise what this baffling advert was referring to. How mentally draining it must have been being a woman in the 1940s...and how annoying when there were LOADS of very Un-coy adverts about really gross things in nearly every issue of The Orcadian:

Eww Warts!

"It just decays in your bowels..."
 How are the words 'sanitary' and 'towel' worse than 'wart', 'bowel' or the phrase 'two pints of bile flowing freely'?

Give me a roaring woman jumping out of a plane any day.

All adverts taken from 1947 editions of The Orcadian

Thursday, 13 April 2017


A lovely letter to a Newcastle reading group from George Mackay Brown who died on this day 21 years ago. (Click to enlarge).

Orkney Archive Reference D1/852

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 a 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...