Work in progress. In due course I will split this page into several linked pages to reduce scrolling.

James Stevens Linklater was born on the 25th October 1850 in AITH in the parish of SANDWICK and the last of my direct ancestors to be born and bred in Orkney. He was the son of David Linklater and Janet Linklater née Irvine. Census records show that Irvines occupied various properties in Aith all within easy hailing distance of eachotherr - see the O.S. map further down. David was born in Kirbister, about 2½ miles south of Aith at the northern end of Stromness Parish. David's future wife, Janet, was born ‘under a cloud’ in Aith on the 19th August 1825, ten years and a day after David, an event somewhat tetchily recorded by the Rev. Charles Clouston thus;


See Janet Linklater for the details. The said rev., aged about 24 and brimming, no doubt, with youthful zeal, could only just have assumed his duties as assistant minister to his father, the Rev. William Clouston Minister of the ‘United Parishes of Sandwick and Stromness’. In other respects thre Rev. Mr. Charles Clouston must have been a providential choice to have presiding over parochial affairs. He was a keen and energetic scientific observer of everything from botany to meteorology, both of which he studied at Edinburgh and on which he kept meticulous notes, contributing items on meteorology to Encyclopaedia Britannica and adding several new species of plant to the Orkney flora. As well as his theological studies enabling the proper care of their immortal souls, he obtained a degree in medicine while at Edinburgh and was generous in the application of his knowledge to the care of their sinful bodies, often gratis. Having joined his father William in 1825 as assistant, he succeeded him as sole Minister of Sandwick in 1832, the very year in which the previously combined parishes of Stromness and Sandwick were separated. He was also a willing and able writer. His account of Sandwick for the ‘New Statistical Survey of Scotland’ written in 1839 and revised in 1841, the whole of which can be seen here, is among the longest and most detailed that were returned, as was that of his father a generation earlier in about 1795. The Rev. William Clouston's account of the ‘United Parishes of Sandwick and Stromness’ was composed for inclusion in Sir John Sinclair's groundbreaking initial ‘Statistical Survey of Scotland 1791-99’ some of which is reproduced HERE. Charles Clouston was also the first president of the Orkney Natural History Society which founded the Stromness Museum in 1837.

The Rev. Charles Clouston is also credited with burying the infamous Orkney Black Book. The origins of this book are shrouded in the sulpherous smoke of Orkney mythology. Its possession conferred upon its owner supernatural powers. As with all such things, there was reputedly a heavy price to pay. Auld Hornie required his pund o flesh, or more to the point, your immortal soul. The only way to avoid the proverbial fate worse than death was to sell the book for less than it had been bought. Inevitably “a simple-minded servant lass bought the infernal volume for a farthing; and it seemed she was stuck with it till her dying day; after which her soul would have to bear it down to the fires where it had originated. But the lass was not so simple-minded after all. Beset with anguish and terror, she carried The Book to the minister, Rev. Charles Clouston of Sandwick, who solemnly buried the accursed thing in his garden; after which nothing more was ever heard of it.” [Brown, 1975]

Sandwick was formerly divided into North and South Sandwick before being united with the Parish of Stromness. As the division of parishes was essentially a church matter, combined parishes were considered less than ideal and Charles Clouston explains why in due course. However, with the increasing size and importance of the town of Stromness, the parishes were separated in 1832, about ten years before the Rev. Charles Clouston wrote his account of Sandwick for the New Statistical Survey. However, he himself had a taste of ministering the two conjoined parishes on his first arriving back in Orkney to assist his father who presided over the ministry of Stromness and Sandwick until his death in 1832 at which point Charles was appointed sole minister in charge of Sandwick. The border of Stromness Parish is about 2 miles south of Aith. There is a separate page dealing in greater detail with Sandwick.

Much of what Charles Clouston wrote for the ‘New Statistical Survey of Scotland’ will be quoted here, my purpose being to reflect as accurately as possible what daily life was like in mid-19th century Orkney for James Stevens Linklater and family. The Rev. Charles Clouston lived in Sandwick Manse. If this is one and the same property as that indicated on the ‘Manse’ on the 1888 O.S. map less than half a mile south of Aith, he must have known all the residents of Aith well - certainly by sight and probably by name. In all likelihood he would also have known everyone in the parish because firstly, as the officiating minister, he would have been responsible for church attendance. [Here, once I have the facts, I will add information about church tokens, dissenting and secessionist congegations in Sandwick, and who was responsible for recording data in the Parish Registers.] But secondly, in addition to knowledge gained in his ministery the Rev. Charles Clouston took the trouble to take an unofficial census of Sandwick in 1833 which I don't believe was ever published but of which I have a copy, relevant excerpts from which can be seen HERE. The original, D3.357, is in the Orkney Archives.

I still don't know with any certainty when James finally left Orkney to seek his fortune ‘abroad’ in Scotland. The 1851 Census noted his presence in ‘East Aith’; that for 1861, the last record of him in Orkney, placed him in ‘Aith’. Others in the same household in 1861 were his father, David, ‘head’, aged 45 described as a Merchant; Janet, his wife and James' mother, aged 35; Helen, a sister aged 12, and a “scholar” as were ‘our’ James aged 10, Jannet [sic] aged 8, and Barbara aged 5. ‘Scholar’ does not signify that the family was bursting with grey matter; it was simply the term used for anyone attending school. From 1911 the more prosaic ‘School’ was recorded rather than scholar. At the same property in Aith three ‘Servants’ were recorded; William Garson aged 16, a Ploughman; Ann Moar, a ‘Domestic Servant’ aged 22; and Caroline Linklater aged 17, a ‘Dairymaid’. The latter was probably a daughter of David's half-brother John.

Janet and David had no further children that I know of after Barbara, and come the next census, of those recorded in 1861 only Barbara and her parents remained in Aith, the others having ‘gone about their business’. In James' case that was to Leith at 72 Great Junction Street. Thereafter each census recorded him at 14 Summerside Street, Leith. According to his death certificate he died at 11 Claremont Crescent, Edinburgh, 21st August 1899, although he still owned 14 Summerside Street. He also seems to have owned property in Aith, of which more anon. As for his siblings, Helen married Peter Wishart of Howaback who farmed around 90 acres and by whom she had at least seven sons one of whom, David Wishart, subsequently lived with and worked for his grandmother Janet, by then running ‘Sandwick Post Office’. She died on the 17th September 1902 in Aith where she had lived her whole life, her grandson, David Wishart, being the ‘informant’ on her death certificate. Janet's husband, David, had died about twenty-eight years earlier under somewhat mysterious circumstances just a couple of miles from where he had first drawn breath; “on the evening of Friday the 16th of October [1874] between 6 and 7 p.m. on the Public Road leading from Stromness to Sandwick in the Parish of Stromness and about 1½ miles distant from Stromness.” [Quotation from his death certificate. ‘1½ miles distant from Stromness’ is about level with the H of STROMNESS PARISH on Thomson's map below.] Of James' sister, Jannet, I have found no trace after the 1861 census. Barbara died of tuberculosis in Edinburgh when she was only 17, James witnessing her death certificate. See Flitting the Isles for all the census data I have concerning Aith relevant to us, together with some for Stromness and David Linklater's family. In common with the population of Orkney as a whole, Linklaters peaked in Aith in 1861.

Aith is sometimes referred to as “Aiths Town” or “Aithstown”. I will stick to plain simple Aith, which clearly is not, nor ever was, a town, but a tunship. A tunship, or township as they became known, and a town are not synonymous in Orkney. A tunship was a taxable entity comprised of a number of separate but related dwellings enclosed by a common turf dyke [boundary wall] within which the land was divided between the various properties in heritable proportions. Until the agricultural reforms of the mid 19th century, i.e. the date of James' birth, the land thus divided, rather than being in solid blocks, consisted of a patchwork of strips of land arranged run-rig. An owner might have several such strips dotted about within the tunship. Outside the dyke was the commonty, or common land, which again, until the land reforms, was unenclosed and on which the occupants of the tunship had certain clearly defined rights and responsibilities. The former included the right to cut peat in those places boasting a peat moss. Sandwick was poorly endowed in this respect and people living there had a long-standing arrangement allowing them to cut peats in the adjoining but landlocked parish of Harray, the quid pro quo being to allow the partans, or ‘crabs’ as the residents of Harray were jocularly known, access to the coast to launch their boats. The Agricultural Revolution came very late to Orkney but its improvements were implemented very rapidly and can be dated pretty precisely as taking effect from 1845 to 1880, the very period of James' upbringing. What follows includes excerpts from the Rev. Charles Clouston's Description of the Parish of Sandwick for the ‘New’ Stistical Survey.

Aith derives its name from the Old Norse eið meaning an isthmus or neck of land or, as Ployen defines it “a tongue of land between two bays.” [Ployen, 1894]. It is not obvious to me what struck Norse geographers as such an obvious isthmus that it required naming. Whether the eið was that between the Loch of Skaill and Loch of Clumly or Loch of Skaill and Loch of Harray - none of which were so named at the time, is debatable; there are more obvious candidates for Aith that were not so called, i.e. the eið between the north-western end of the Loch of Skaill and the coast - which does not seem to have been called anything. There is a larger settlement in Shetland called Aith on Mainland, at the southern end of Aith Voe where again the actual isthmus is equally speculative. Staying with the subject of names, it is not clear to me from the censuses exactly which properties are being referred to. For example, in 1821 is Eath, Aithstown an error? If so was it in the original reporting, or did it occur in transcription? Should the correct name have been East Aithstown? In 1841 I have no idea what property is referred to as ‘Chamber of Aith’. In 1851 East Aith seems to have expanded to the extent that 3 separately recorded dwellings, yet that does not sit well with the 1888 O.S. map. Again, in 1881 with Janet ensconced in solitary splendour in Aith Post Office, ‘strangers’ occupy 2 other ‘Aith’ properties as well as another occupying West Aith. Of particular interest to me is identifying the property or properties occupied by Janet. In 1891 she is recorded in Sandwick P.O. Was this the same building as Aith Post Office? There is a photograph dated 1900 of a female sitting outside a building clearly named Sandwick Post Office together with four males wearing what look like they might have been P.O. uniforms with a fifth bearded man in ‘civvies’. But it seems impossible that this could be Janet, who in 1901, aged 75 was still described as Post Mistress, i.e. not retired, but living at Aith Post Office. Come 1911, after Janet herself had died, occupied Aith properties were recorded as Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4. Again, the 1888 O.S. map provides no answers.

sandwick_stromness_thomson.jpg The name Sandwick is no doubt derived from the sandy bay, which is the principal one on the west coast between Stromness and Birsay, wick signifying a bay. The extreme length of the parish is fully 6 miles but various calculations and measurements convince me that its mean length is about 4½ miles, and its mean breadth about 3¾. It is bounded by Birsay on the north ; by Harray and the loch of Stenness on the east ; by the same loch and Stromness on the south ; and by the Atlantic on the west.

The bay is now called Bay of Skaill. When Clouston was writing, no distinction was made between the tidal Loch of Stenness and its more northerly, fresh-water twin, the Loch of Harray. He would now have to say that Sandwick was “bounded by Birsay on the north ; by the Loch of Harray on the east ; the Loch of Stenness and Stromness parish on the south.”

This parish cannot be denominated mountainous, nor even hilly, when compared with the neighbouring ones, being more flat and cultivated than any of them ; but a range of hills forms its west boundary except at the bay; and from these the hills of Gyran and Lingafiold [fiold means hill] stretch eastward near its south side, and those of Vestrafiold and Yonbell at its north boundary. These, as well as the lower lands and valleys remote from the sea, slope gently eastward towards the loch of Stenness, forming part of that extensive amphitheatre in the centre of the west mainland, the area of which is little elevated above the loch. Vestrafiold, or the west hill, is the highest, and may be about 300 or 400 feet above the level of the sea. A little east of the Sandy bay are eminences or low sandy hills, called Sandfiold and Kierfiold, which seem to be formed in a great measure of the sand blown from the bay by the west wind, which is prevalent and violent. The latter of these hills was formerly considered beautiful for its verdure, as it was covered with grass to the summit, but for some years it has been forced to submit to the plough, and I suppose it is more profitable, though less pleasing to the eye than formerly.

The map above by John Thomson, originally published in 1822, is pretty hopelessly inaccurate. Keen cartophiles will notice that, among other things, I have corrected the line taken by the road from Stromness to Stenness via Aith. Thomson's, in common with all previous maps, made no distinction between the Lochs of Harray and ‘Stenhouse’, but by 1887, if not before, the Ordinance Survey named the lochs separately. The Thomson map also indulges in the bad habit of calling Mainland ‘Pomona’, but most heinous of all, it fails to indicate Linklater, an omission I have rectified. I only include the map because it is pretty and might have been familiar to James and his family. The red and yellow boundaries differentiate Bishoprick from Earldom lands. Four properties referred to by me here and elsewhere are indicated; Nether Benzieclett - NB, Kierfold - K, East House - EH and Windywalls - WW. Ther latter is where David was born.

On the ground today, Aith is pretty much as it must have been when mapped in 1888. Starting with the building at West Aith, there is still an intact dwelling to be seen [in 2015] although orientated approximately east-west rather than north-south as on the map. [See photo.] Moving to East Aith, on the site of what was the School House is now a modern bungalow. South of that, the building indicated as ‘1160’ is now ruinous. [See image] Taking the road running eastwards past what is marked on the 1888 O.S. map as the Post Office, there are two buildings approximating to those marked on the map; the first is a modernised bungalow with adjacent outbuilding or barn which might, on further inspection, turn out to be the site of the old Post Office - ‘1168’ on the map. What is not shown on the map is anything at point X, whereas today there is a substantial two-storey building which I am told used to be ‘the ’ Post Office and outside which is a telephone box. [See image]. This can't have been where Janet lived, or surely it would haver featured on the 1888 O.S. map. On the other hand, it seems a more suitable building in which to accommodate paying guests, which, according to Peace's Orkney Almanac, Janet did.

Peace's Orkney Almanac and County Directory was first published in 1863 and contains a great deal of useful information, but not all of it totally reliable. For example, Janet's husband David died in 1874 yet was named in Peace's Almanac for 1875 as the Sandwick Postmaster. The almanacs for 1873 and 1874 also named David as postmaster. Prior to that a John Linklater was named as the Sandwick postmaster. Among six half-siblings from his father's first marriage, David had a half-brother called John [b. 1802 d. 1887]; whether this John was the Post Master is uncertain, but what is probable is that Caroline Linklater, recorded in the 1861 as a servant living at Aith with David and Janet, was the seventh of nine children born to this same half-brother, John. From 1876-1902 Peace's Almanac names “Mrs Linklater” as the Sandwick Postmaster (sic) as well as a “merchant”. This was ‘our’ Janet Linklater née Irvine. Published annually Peace's Almanac serves to fill in some of the blanks left in the decade-long gaps between censuses. Peace's Almanac names, among a great deal else, all those in business in each parish including tradesmen and postal workers. In all cases, whether for ‘merchant’ or ‘lodgings’ Janet's address is given simply as Aith. Come 1880, according to Peace's Almanac, Janet ceased to be a merchant and was listed as the only person in Sandwick providing ‘lodgings’. Things remained thus until 1903 except that others muscle in on the lodgings business, e.g. Wm. Davie at Smithfield Inn in 1882-95, which is in Dounby and still going strong [2015] although now a hotel. From 1897 to 1902 Peace lists Mrs Linklater, Aith as well as a David Allan also at Aith; whether under the same roof as Janet or in another property is unclear. Following Janet's death in 1902, the 1903 Almanac names D. Allan as Sandwick Postmaster as well as continuing to provide lodgings.

If the buildings currently observable at East Aith are those in which Janet took in lodgers, conditions must have been very cramped or extremely friendly. One of the reasons I obsess over the property is because I was keen to capture the view from their front door. Here is my best guess, taken from outside 1168 and facing south.

Excerpts from the NEW STATISTICAL SURVEY for SANDICK PARISH by the Rev. Charles CLOUSTON

Meteorology. I have kept a register of the weather for the last twelve years ; the latter half only in this parish, and the former in the manse of Stromness, where there is no great difference in the climate. As the temperature and pressure of the atmosphere, the direction and force of the wind, with the state of the weather, were noted twice a-day, at ten A. M. and ten P. M. during all that period.

Our climate ... is more remarkable for dampness and storms, than for cold; the atmosphere being often loaded with sea spray in winter, and moistened with the constant evaporation in summer. Pulmonary and rheumatic complaints seem to be prevalent, owing to this peculiarity of the climate, and our sudden and frequent changes of weather. Some cases of cramp may also be ascribed to the dampness; and a neighbouring clergyman, who is afflicted with loss of voice, has, more than once, been immediately cured by the air of Edinburgh. Dyspeptic complaints are very common among the peasantry, but they are probably caused by poor diet.

In the seemingly unlikely event that atmospheric conditions in mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh were actually therapeutic, they failed to work their magic on David and Janet's youngest child, Barbara Watt Linklater. Having been the sole child recorded as still living at home in the 1871 Census, both she and her father were struck from the record after 1871. In David's case, as noted, he died suddenly on the road from Stromness to Aith, but Barbara died in Edinburgh on the 2nd May 1873 of tuberculosis of “uncertain” duration aged only 17. There was some compensation for living in a high northern latitude. Ironically, in 1923 the local health authority acquired part of the buildings at Houton, east of Stromness in the neighbouring parish of Orphir, which had formed part of the Scapa Seaplane Station during the First World War and which they opened subsequently as the Scapa Tuberculosis Pavilion. Not exactly the Swiss Alps and in any case too late for Barbara.

Of meteors, the polar lights are the most remarkable here, being often extremely brilliant and beautiful.

Climate. Our insular situation prevents the extremes of temperature that are felt in continents of such a high latitude, the surrounding ocean tempering the heat of summer, and the cold of winter ; so that for more than twelve years, the thermometer has only once fallen so low as 18° of Fahrenheit, and the snow does not lie so long here, as in the more inland parts of the south of Scotland, or, I believe, the north of England. Indeed, the mean temperature of every month was above the freezing point, except that of February 1838. Our mean annual temperature is 46° 25’, and the mean height of the barometer 29.640 ; but the nature of our climate will be more correctly understood by comparing the mean temperature of each month, as there stated, with that of other places. The huge accumulations of water that then roll after each other, foaming with terrible violence to the shore, impress the mind with their irresistible power, and might well give a stranger a feeling of insecurity ; and, when they dash themselves against the precipice, it seems half sunk, for a time, like a wrecked vessel amid the waves ; sheets of spray are thrown far up into the air, and carried over all the country, making springs a mile from the coast brackish, for some days, and encrusting every thing with salt, even fifteen or twenty miles off. The west or south-west wind is understood to be the strongest and the stone and lime on that side of a house most exposed to it, are generally the first to give way. A gale from that quarter is frequently prognosticated by the great swell of the sea, which rages even during a perfect calm.

Aith is only 1½ miles inland from the west coast of Mainland whose sheer rampart takes the brunt of whatever the Atlantic choses to hurl at Orkney. On the 5th June 1916 this included the few survivors from H.M.S. Hampshire which had sunk 1½ miles offshore. Of those who made it as far as the coast only 14 survived, more of whom could have been saved had it not been for naval interference, reputedly at gun-point, forbidding any attemps at rescue. The total number lost was 737 one of whom was Lord Kitchener.

V. Alluvial Rocks. The alluvial formation of Orkney is not particularly interesting ; but we have plenty of clay, in most places abundance of peat, though there is little in Sandwick, and, in many districts, marl. Bog-iron ore is very common on some of our hills ; and along our sandy bays, nature frequently erects a barrier of a sort of indurated sand, apparently formed by the mixture of siliceous particles with fragments of shells, which serve for cement. In our peat-mosses, roots of large trees are often dug up, and they have also been found in Sandwick Bay, where they are generally covered by the ocean. Hazel-nuts, deers' horns, &c. have likewise repeatedly been found imbedded in our peat and this makes it probable that forests have formerly grown in these islands, where there is nothing now that deserves to be called a tree, except in gardens.

Peat was the only source of fuel readily obtainable in Orkney for several thousand years. Norse spin-doctors claimed in the Orkenyinga Saga that it was Einarr Rognvaldarson who ‘discovered’ peat and introduced its use to the dim-witted occupants of Orkney earning him the sobriquet of Torf-Einarr. In reality peat was used in Orkney for many centuries before the Vikings' arrival, and remained in use until well into the 20th century. Coal was imported in the 19th century but was a luxury affordable by only a few. Since publicly owned gas and electricity were introduced after the 1st World War, use of peat has steadily declined. Its further demise was hastened by the use of North Sea oil and gas. Today the largest user of peat in Orkney is the Highland Park Distillery which cuts some 300 tons annually. I have four issues of Peace's Almanac for the years immediately ptreceeding the 2nd World War which were evidently the property of John George Pottinger, a small farmer. Each year he recorded the dates of the various stages of his peat-cutting operations; after cutting came spreading, raising, stacking then carting. It's not clear where he was cutting peats, but there are farming references to Twatt and Barnhouse. In general however, little peat was cut in Sandwick whose residents went east to the adjoining parish of Harray which had ample peats. The quid pro quo was that the landlocked residents of Harray were permitted to launch their boats from the few safe launch sites on Sandwick's otherwise inhospitable coast.

Soil. The soil of Sandwick is of very different kinds in different places. Immediately east of the bay, it is nothing but sand, which blows about with the wind. In other places, there is a poor yellow clay, formed by the wasting of the clay flag; and our best soil is a rich black clayish loam. These are mixed together in infinite proportions; but there is no depth of mossy soil or gravel. The clays particularly rest on a retentive rocky subsoil, many parts of which would be much improved by draining.

Zoology. Rabbits are very numerous in the sandy parts of this parish, and hares, which were only introduced into Orkney a few years ago, are now beginning to show themselves. Thousands of gulls, of different species, with scarfs [cormorant] and other sea birds, as well as common pigeons, build on the shelves of our precipices, and some hundreds of the pewit, or black-headed gull, on a little artificial holm in the Loch of Skaill. A few pairs of wild swans remain some months in winter in the Lochs of Stenness and Clumly. Wild geese visit us every spring, and several species of duck are found in all our lochs in considerable numbers. There are no trout or other fish of any importance in our lochs ; but in the Loch of Stenness, trout, flounders, and various other species are got; and there is great variety in the Atlantic, on our west shores; however, it is only when the sea is smooth that boats can get out to fish. Lobsters are caught in the bay for the London market.

Land-owners. The property is divided into very small portions here, as in the neighbouring parishes. William Graham Watt, Esq. of Breckness, holds about a third, and resides on it, cultivating a considerable part. The Crown holds about a fifth; and the remainder is held by nearly seventy other proprietors, most of whom cultivate their own little farms.

Little is the operative word. The first year in which census data recorded farm sizes was 1851. The next two censues continued in the same train. Taking 1861 as the ‘mean’ it is remarkable how many ‘farmers’ there were with holdings no larger than what today might be considered a decent sized garden. Farmers of 100 acres or more were then the exception rather than the rule. By today's standards, 100 acres would be considered a small, barely-viable farm. Historically Sandwick was regarded as one of the most fertile parishes in Orkney, which was reflected in the skatt valuation. The following figures from the 1861 Sandwick census must be approached with some caution. There are a number of occasions on which neighbouring properties report being occupied by farmers of identical acreages e.g. 1/46 U[pper] Stove, 1/47 M[iddle] Stove and 1/48 L[ower] Stove are each recorded as occupied by a farmer named Kirkness farming 57 acres. Whether each Kirkness was in fact farming one and the same farm of 57 acres or whether each Kirkness had inherited exactly one third of a farm of 171 acres is unclear. Compiled from the raw data the following chart plots individual farms by size, each blue diamond representing one farm. Notwithstanding possible inclusion of anomolous data as mentioned above, the charted data shows 144 farms in Sandwick ranging from the smallest of 1½ acres to the largest of 380 acres. Out of these 144 farms, over 100 are of 50 acres or less and only 12 are larger than 100 acres.


The amount of the population at each census, taken at the four last periods, was 970, 922, 930, and 973, or, including 46 seamen, 1019 ; but when I took an account of my parishioners in 1833, visiting every cottage, I found it amounted to 1088, and, according to the present return for this Account, it is 1056.

The following are the population figures for Sandwick according to census data held by O.F.H.S.

Year 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881 1891 1901 1911
Sandwick 1033 1100 1225 1153 1198 1109 1071 985

Tfigures above mimic the modern population trend of Orkney as a whole which peaked in 1861 with a total of 32,225. Thereafter the population declined steadily every decade till its nadir of 17,077 in 1971. Since then the population has increased slightly and fluctuates around the 20,000 mark. The exceptions were the war years when the massive influx of service men and women double or trebled the normal population. Thus James Stevens Linklater was in the vanguard of leavers. The situation today is somewhat precarious, especially for the outer isles, in the sense of being able to maintain a viable resident huiman population. Sheep are, of course, less demanding.

  Category Communities Characteristics  
  Strong Kirkwall, Finstown, Holm, East Mainland, Papa Westray. Growing population, high rates of economic activity and positive age profile.  
  Stable Stromness, West Mainland, Burray, South Ronaldsay. Growing population, reasonable levels of economic activity but an older population profile.  
  Marginal Hoy, Westray, Shapinsay. Population growing or stable, below average economic activity and poorly balanced age structure. Reliant on inmigrants to sustain population.  
  Becoming threatened Stronsay, Sanday, Rousay, Egilsay & Wyre. A low proportion of children, high reliance on in-migration, with below average economic activity.  
  Threatened North Ronaldsay, Graemsay & Flotta, Eday. Declining population with an elderly profile, few children and a low proportion of economically active in-migrants.  

Gaelic has never been spoken here ; and I know of no customs, games, or amusements, peculiar to this people.

If the work of cleanliness has begun, it is yet far from perfected. In their persons and dress, I believe there has been some improvement in this respect, but it must be very limited, till they have houses that are clean, in which it would be possible to keep their persons so. At present, most of them are wretched hovels, with holes in the roof instead of chimneys, which permit that part of the smoke to escape, that is knowing enough to find it; but most of the soot attaches itself to the roof and rafters, whence it descends again on the inmates.

Another hole in the roof, about six inches square, and often without glass, is the substitute for a window ; and cows, calves, pigs, geese, and fowls, share the benefit of the peat fire, placed on the middle of the floor for the accommodation of all. Their food is as simple as can be imagined. Oat and bear-meal, with milk in various forms, potatoes, cabbage, and sometimes fish, is their ordinary diet ; and most indulge in a little flesh and ale at Christmas, or other holidays. Of their poor cots, many are only tenants at will, and on this account, as well as others connected with their state of vassalage, though many have peace and plenty, I cannot say that all enjoy, in a reasonable degree, the comforts of society and civilization, as so much depends on their landlord.

The general character of the people, intellectual, moral, and religious, is, I believe, much like that of their neighbours, who have been placed in the same unfavourable circumstances, living in a parish united to another, with public worship only once a fortnight, and no resident clergyman. I have the gratification of noticing in the sequel their late improvement, in these respects.


Agriculture. Much of the information required under this branch of inquiry, I expected to have procured from the tenants ; but it is proper to explain, that many of them having been prohibited from divulging the secret of their real rent, and quantity of land, I have been under the necessity of extracting the truth from other sources. More than half of this parish has lately been divided under a process of division of run-rig, and of this part, the number of acres of arable and pasture land, with the comparative value of each, has been exactly ascertained; and knowing the proportion between the valued rent of this part, and that which remains undivided, I am furnished with materials from which to calculate the number of acres of arable and pasture land in the whole parish, with more precision than formerly; and the knowledge of the real rent of (a part, amounting to more than £ 600, gives me also materials for calculating the real rent of the whole, which 1 believe to be nearly £1600, but which I shall at present calculate at £1500 ; and I have pleasure in acknowledging the politeness of Mr Graham, the Crown Chamberlain, and the surveyor, in procuring most of the documents. The valuation of the parish, more than twenty years ago is far below the Present value, some tenants paying more than double of the rent then stated.

Rent of Land. The average rent of arable land per acre is 10s , and the average rent of pasture land about '2s. per acre.

Rate of Wages. The following is the rate of wages. A ploughman per year, £ 7, or more if he acts as grieve, with board, or equivalent in meal, &c.; a male day labourer gets 1s. and a female 6d. without fare; female servants in gentlemen's families have £ 3 a-year. For harvest, men get £ l, 10s. and females £ l. Masons may be got to build dikes at 1s. 3d. a-day, and 11d. a fathom for building and quarrying a dry stone dike, 3½ feet high, with coping. More perfect masons obtain 2s. a-day for the best kind of work ; carpenters get 2s. a-day and food.

Prices. The prices of different articles of raw produce, or country manufacture, are, fowls, 8d. each ; eggs, 3d. per dozen ; beef and mutton, about Martinmas, 2d. per lb., but dearer at other seasons; butter, 6d. per lb. potatoes, the dearest, 3s. per barrel ; an iron plough, £ 2; a wooden one, £ l, 10s. ; a cart £ 4, 4s.; a pair of harrows, 14s. or 15s. The common breeds of cattle are the small ones of the county, and little attention has been paid to their improvement. The general character of the husbandry is still exceedingly defective, most of the ground having been alternately in oats and bear for generations, without the benefit of green crop, grass, or fallow, except a rig or two on each farm, for the potatoes. The soil is, in consequence, full of a great variety of weeds, and exhausted; and I deem it of the utmost importance, that a regular rotation of crops should be introduced suiting the course and kind of crop, to the soil and climate; but hitherto there has been a greater desire to increase the quantity of arable ground, by reclaiming waste land, than to increase the productive power of that which is already arable, by rotation and draining. In general there are no leases, and in the few cases where they exist, their duration is only about seven years, so that they afford no adequate encouragement for improvements by the tenants. The state of the farm-buildings is as bad as that of the dwelling-house which I mentioned before, and there are no inclosures among the peasantry, except those of their ‘kale yards’.

The principal improvements which have recently been introduced among the tenants, are better horses, and implements of agriculture, and those in my neighbourhood are also trying turnips on a small scale. The single-stilted plough, used here at the beginning of this century, is now completely abolished, with all its cumbrous machinery, and the common two-stilted mould-board one substituted in its place, and a pair of good small horses, instead of three or four with their leaders. Harrows with teeth of iron instead of wood, and carts are now universally used. The public road from Stromness is made as far as the Loch of Aith, and in tolerable repair.

Mr Watt is by far the most extensive farmer in the parish, and has for many years carried on an improved system of husbandry ; enclosing and reclaiming waste land on a large scale,-his last inclosure off the common, a few years since, including about 100 acres. Mr Robertson in Lyking deserves next to be noticed with approbation, for his success in raising the best crops, and acting on an improved system. Mr Heddle of Clumly, who purchased that property about five years ago, has already inclosed the whole of it, and brought most of its waste land into cultivation.

The glebe has also, during the last four years, been inclosed and drained; and this is the only farm in the parish, or, in a much wider district, that is under a regular rotation of crops. The course adopted is that of six years, viz. green crop, bear, two years grass, and two years oats ; but it would, be premature to affirm that this is the rotation best adapted to the county, or most worthy of general imitation. This experiment however, has shown that the crops are vastly improved by the rotation, and that the first years are attended with more expense than profit. All the obstacles to improvement, noticed in the heads of inquiry, operate here in their full force, viz. want of capital, the want of encouragement by proprietors, erroneous management of land, defective leases, and insufficient accommodation in building and inclosing.

Produce. The average gross amount of raw produce cannot be stated with precision, as the people could not tell it; but the principle on which valuators generally calculate, is, that the produce should be three times the value of the rent, which makes the total amount of the raw produce raised in this parish £ 4500, and this is almost exclusively in grain, and a few potatoes for their own use. The only crop cultivated for the arts is rye, for making bonnets, nine acres of which are raised by Mr Watt, at what appears a liberal rent of £ 6, 10s. per acre, but he has to manure and work the land, and furnish carts whenever they are required, for carrying the produce to the boiler, thence to the bleaching-field, and thence to Kirkwall, or Stromness.

Manufactures. The principal branch of manufacture carried on here, is straw plaiting, which occupies almost all our younger females; or, in summer, reaping and preparing the nine acres of rye that furnish the materials. The seeds are sown thick, that the straw may be long and fine. The stems are cut down before the grain ripens, tied near the lower end into very small bundles, steeped in boiling water for an hour, spread on the ground to bleach, and carted to the manufacturer's house, where the upper part between the highest joint and the grain which only in general is used, is pulled out; cut to a proper length, sifted or sorted to different degrees of fineness, and made up into small bundles, which arc distributed to the girls who take them to their own houses to be plaited; they are paid according to the fineness of the straw, and excellence of the work. The plaiters can earn 6d. a day at the present rate of wages. The plaits are next washed, smoked, milled, and, lastly, put into the hands of other girls, who sew them together into bonnets. At one time, this by manufacture was conducted in a very objectionable manner by collecting numbers of young people in confined apartments where, as “evil communications corrupt good manners,” and “one sinner destroyeth much good,” it is to be feared the contaminated atmosphere was not only destructive to their bodily health, but to their moral purity. The same objections, however, do not apply to it as conducted at present in their own houses, where it has a tendency to introduce neatness and cleanliness; but it is a serious objection, that the whim of a London lady may render it unfashionable to appear under a thatch of straw, and thus at once throw destitute 3000 Orcadian damsels.

The manufacture of kelp is not of great importance here now, only about eight tons are made, -and it neither affords much employment nor profit.



There is no town or village in the parish, but the centre is only about five miles from Stromness, and about fifteen from Kirkwall.

Our letters pass through the Stromness Post Office ; and the length of made-road from the centre of this, to join that in Stromness parish, is two miles.

Ecclesiastical State. The parish church is placed about 100 yards from the bay at the west side, and about five miles from the other extremity,-a situation which is most inconvenient for all the population, except the few in that neighbourhood, the nearest cottage being nearly a mile distant, As this church was built so lately as 1836, partly on the foundation of the former one - it is my duty to relieve the presbytery of the bounds, and the minister of the awful responsibility of approving of such a site : for after the principal heritors had petitioned the presbytery for a removal of the church to a central situation, and that court had cordially approved of a measure so eminently calculated to promote the glory of God, and salvation of souls, the opposition of the very person who had written, and been most prominent in promoting that petition, effectually defeated the arrangement. From this it is evident that presbyteries should be vested with authority to fix on the proper sites for churches.

Though so recently built, I cannot say that its present state of repair is good, for being founded partly On the foundation of the old church, and partly on soft sand, the wall cracked so far, that the arch of a window came down, and that being rebuilt, it has again cracked in such a manner, that it gives little prospect of durability. It contains 564 sittings, which are not yet divided. The manse was built in 1833. The glebe consists of 43⅓ acres, nearly half of which used to be arable ground, and the rest poor pasture, or waste land, which was let altogether for about £12.

The stipend is the minimum of £150, with £ 8, 6s. 8d. for communion elements, - £6, 5s. 6d. of the stipend being paid from Exchequer.

There are two Dissenting chapels in the parish, one belonging to the United Secession church, and the other to the Independents. The former was erected in 1828, and the minister [This gentleman has politely furnished the information concerning his own chapel, which is given, as far as consistent with the heads of inquiry, in his own words.] is provided with a house, a piece of land, and fuel, and receives £ 76 of stipend, the whole of which is derived to him from the congregation; but, according to the usual practice of the Secession Church, so long as the congregation are unable, by their own forts, to support the regular dispensation of religious ordinances, they annually receive pecuniary aid from the United Associate Synod, and also from the two neighbouring congregations of Kirkwall and Stromness. The number of communicants on the roll of that congregation is 105, but only 68 of them belong to this parish. The whole population attending the chapel, including members, their children, and others, is about 230, and if the above proportion holds good, about 150 of them belong to this parish. The Independent chapel was built about 1824, but is not occupied every Sabbath, as the preacher resides in Harray. I cannot state his income, and perhaps I should not, as he is not resident here, but what he derives from this parish must be extremely little. I am told there are seven members connected with this chapel, and not so many additional hearers, resident in Sandwick. Making these deductions from the population, there remain 900 belonging to the Established Church, where worship is generally well attended, considering its distance from the east extremity of the parish, for the people of that district are five miles from the church of their own parish, and only one from that of Harray, where, it is to be supposed, they will frequently attend. The average number of communicants for the last six years, counting those who used tokens, is 496, and counting the official persons also, who used none, I may state it to be about 500. We yearly take a collection in church for one of the General Assembly's schemes ; but we cannot raise above L. I in this way ; for though we sent above £ 7 to one of them, and above £ 3 to another during the last two years, the greater part of these sums was raised by subscription.

Education. The total number of schools is nine ; but some of these are kept only for a short period, by persons who happen to have leisure. One of these is the parochial school, and all the rest are unendowed. The branches of education taught at the best of these, are, Latin, French, grammar, writing, arithmetic, music, outlines of civil and natural history, geography, geometry, and a little astronomy; but several taught by females, are limited to reading and sewing. The salary of the parochial teacher is £34. 4s. 4½d., but both at this, and the other schools, the school fees do not amount to much. The parochial teacher has the legal accommodation. The expense of education per quarter at it, is 1s. for reading, with grammar, writing and arithmetic, and 6d. for each important branch in addition, but 9d, and even 6d. per quarter are the fees at some of the female schools. I believe all between six and fifteen years of age can read, and a great part of them write. I do not know of more than two or three old people who cannot read. The people, in general, are alive to the benefits of education. Notwithstanding the great number of our schools, another endowed and permanent one is much wanted at the north side of the parish, where there is a population of about 500, most of whom are three miles from the parochial school, which in this climate is sufficient to prevent attendance in the winter season, when they have most time.

There is a visible improvement in the conduct of the people since the facilities of education have increased, In a printed letter of the principal resident heritor, dated 1821, he says, “This parish has been, time out of mind, so ill supplied in regard to church and school, owing, in a great measure, to the residence of the clergyman being placed at the farthest extremity of the other parish, it is wonderful to me that they are not more savage and unprincipled than they are. They are a half century behind most of the other parishes on the mainland, in civilization.”

Supposing this to be a correct description of their condition at the time, as he had the best opportunities of knowing, I can now testify from my own observation, as well as that of others, that they have already made up their half century of lee-way, in less than twenty years, and have made such strides in the march of improvement, that they are now equal to their neighbours, even with their twenty years additional advantages. The uncivilized state of this parish, noticed above, is ascribed to its junction with Stromness, and wanting a resident clergyman. By a decreet of the Court of Teinds, however, they were disjoined at the death of the incumbent in 1832, and since then it has formed a separate charge, with a resident pastor, etc. The careless observance of the Sabbath is often remarked in double charges, where the people are deprived of the public ordinances of religion every alternate Sabbath, and I lament that some of this carelessness still adheres to a few of the old : yet I have cause to rejoice in the evident improvement of the young, who are generally regular in at tending public worship, and a Sabbath school, -the more advanced being taught in church, immediately after public worship, and the very young in district schools. A portion of these meet in the Secession chapel. In short, the improvement effected here affords every encouragement for disjoining the other united parishes.

Library. A parochial library was instituted immediately after I came to reside here, for the use of which each family pays 6d. a year. It now contains 164 works, chiefly on religious subjects, besides religious periodicals. There are 74 subscribers.

Poor and Parochial Funds. The average number on the poor's roll for three years, is 20, and the average sum allotted to each, 9s. 4d. a year. {Equivalent to 1¼ eggs per day!} The average amount of annual contributions for their relief during the same period, is £ 11, 9s. 7d., which is all derived from church collections, and marriage dues, except 8s., which is the rent of a bit of ground devoted to the poor. Out of this sum, however, there are several salaries to be paid. I have never observed any reluctance to accept of parochial relief.

Fairs, Inns, and Fuel. There is one cattle fair held near the east boundary in June. There are four alehouses, which are too many, and have very bad effects on the morals of the people, inducing habits of intemperance. Sandwick is worse provided with fuel, than any other parish in this neighbourhood, having no good moss from which coal-peats can be procured. By use and wont, however, the people have access to extensive mosses in Harray ; but as these are six miles from the centre of this parish, the labour and expense of carting them home are very great.


Since the time of the last Statistical Account, the greatest improvements that have been introduced in agriculture are, better horses, the common plough instead of the single-stilted, the general introduction of carts, a good made road to Stromness, the commencement of green crop among the cottagers, and of a regular rotation on the glebe. The late plankings have shown the quantity of arable and pasture land to be much more than formerly and the real rents are exceedingly increased. Servants' wages are trebled, but those of tradesmen and labourers are scarcely heightened. The price of malt and eggs is doubled, while that of other provisions is not raised so much; but a good cow, that formerly sold for £2, now costs £4 or more. The disjunction of this parish from Stromness, and the building of two Dissenting chapels, are the most important changes in ecclesiastical affairs. The improvements of which the parish is susceptible, must be evident from the previous observations ; but, again, I briefly state, that proper leases, better houses, a rotation of crops, and encouragement by proprietors, seem calculated to promote the progress of industry, and the happiness and comfort of the labouring classes, as well as the interests of the landlords.

Drawn up May 1839 - Revised July 1841.

  • Brown, George Mackay: Letters From Hamnavoe [Gordon Wright, Edinburgh 1975]
  • Clouston, The Rev. Charles: Parish of Sandwick from The Statistical Account of the Orkney Islands [William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh 1842]
  • Ployen, Christian: Reminiscences of a Voyage to Shetland, Orkney and Scotland in the Summer of 1839. [Lerwick, 1894]

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