IRVINE Janet IRVINE Catherine JOHNSTON Margaret IRVINE Isabella IRVINE Mareon IRVINE James IRVINE Matilda IRVINE Jamima IRVINE Anne IRVINE Margaret CORGIL treeI230.gif


about 1801 -

Life History

about 1801



Birth of son IRVINE

19th Aug 1825

Birth of daughter Janet IRVINE in Sandwick, Orkney


Birth of daughter Margaret IRVINE


Birth of daughter Isabella IRVINE


Birth of daughter Mareon IRVINE


Birth of son James IRVINE


Birth of daughter Matilda IRVINE


Birth of daughter Jamima IRVINE


Birth of daughter Anne IRVINE

Other facts


Married Margaret CORGIL


Married Catherine JOHNSTON

These are the same notes as appear on the page for Catherine Johnston.

James Irvine and Catherine Johnston were named as the father and mother of Janet Irvine in the Parish Baptismal Register. Janet’s birth on the 19th August 1825 was recorded thus;


Janet’s is the fourth of six births recorded on that page of the Old Parish Register. The entries follow a set pattern; name of child; date of birth; lawful son or daughter to; name of father and name of mother; residents of; baptized on such and such a date by, in all instances bar one on this page, the Revd. Mr Charles Clouston.

However, as will be seen from the image, Janet’s introduction was not smooth. Hailed initially as “Lawful” that word is crossed out (could one add “furiously”?) and the word “natural” written above. It could have been worse; the term ‘bastardus’ had been carefully defined for Scottish lawyers by John Skene at the end of the sixteenth century as; “Ane bairne vnlauchfully gotten outwith the bande of marriage”. (‘De Verborum Significatione’) So flustered by this was the Revd. Mr Charles Clouston, or whoever was recording the happy event, that the mother’s name, Catherine Johnston, was initially inscribed before that of the father, James Irvine. But that would never do; so Catherine was duly scratched out and put in her proper place behind James Irvine, having already spent too much time, presumably, in front of him. Thus was Janet introduced to Christian charity, with the promise, on the one hand, of eternal salvation for herself while on the other hand everlasting torment for her parents for the sin of fornication.

Further flustery may also be in evidence. The first year recorded at the head of the page is September 20th 1826 succeeded by births on September 22nd 1826 and September 25th 1826 then under Janet’s birth is recorded as ocurring on August 19th 1825 after which two more births are recorded on September 20th 1826 and October 12th 1826 the exact date of which appears to have been corrected from the 15th. Was 1825 an error caused by the recorder being distracted at having to enter a birth from the preceeding month? or was it, even worse, an event that had ocurred more than a year previously? If Janet was really born in 1825, her birth may have been ‘concealed’ for some reason. There is some confirmation 1825 was the actual year of her birth from her death certificate which states that when she died on September 17th 1902 she was 77.

Things do not appear to have improved much after this inauspicious start. Fast forward to 1902 when Janet Irvine’s death is recorded as occurring on 17th September as follows.


In case you can’t make it out, at the bottom of the first column, below her married name, Janet Linklater, is this throw-away line; (widow of David Linklater, Farmer) Illegitimate No parentheses there to cloak the stigma of being ‘vnlauchfully gotten outwith the bande of mariage’. The question therefore arises; why was Janet’s birth was never legitimized? Unravelling that requires first identifying exactly who her mother and father were and what were their circumstances.

The first census following Janet’s birth should have been held in 1831 but sadly there was no official census taken till 1841. However, the Rev. C. Clouston undertook a private census in 1833 or ‘34 (OA D3/357), in which he recorded for Aith: Thomas Irvine and his wife Sibby; James Irvine and his wife Margaret Corigal with ‘their’ daughter Janet, plus Samuel Rolland and Janat Moar, servants, and Thomas Inkster, his wife, and their children Isabela, David, Mary and George. Shortly before Janet’s birth, in 1821, there was the earliest official census some of whose returns have been preserved including those for Sandwick and Stromness. In the parish of Sandwick there are 3 records of a James Irvine. [There were no Irvings recorded till 1841 and they were all previously Irvines who chose to become Irvings – for a while at any rate, our James being the one going for the g spot.] But in 1821 there were records for three James Irvines as follows;

10/13 at Skaebreck, North Dyke, an 18 year old, apparently un-married
13/21 at Quarrybank, Housegarth, a 35 year old, married farmer
16/6 at Eath, Aithstown, a 19 year old, un-married, strawplaiter.
  At the same address; Thomas Irvine, 60, farmer; his wife Sibella, née Baikie, 50;
  another Sibella, aged 18; Peter aged 15; and William Belly, aged 10, a servant.

This last entry has many similarities to the entry noted above by the Rev. C. Clouston in his census.

[O.S. map refs for the above: Skaebreck 238 215; Quarrybank ca. 251 201; Eath 250 178]

There is only 1 record of a Catherine Johnston in the parish of Sandwick in 1821;

11/9 at Vola, Skebra, a 7 year old attending school

For this Catherine to have been my great-great-great-grandmother would mean her being led down the primrose path of dalliance aged only 11 – pretty unlikely one would hope. Which suggests that on the day the census was taken Janet’s mother-to-be was not within the parish of Sandwick whereas her father almost certainly was. However, the Stromness 1821 census does have a Catherine Johnston;

1/375 : 251 Catherine Johnston, 25, Strawplaiting

She is the only person recorded for that property, with no indication of parents or siblings, nor any other Johnstons in contiguous records, which tend to reflect adjacent properties. The nearest other Johnston in the census is Betty, in the Fraser household 1/378 : 252. Betty was aged 25 and also a strawplaiter. They may have been unrelated; they may have been twins; or their ages could have been rounded up or down as was common in early censuses. I do not know what property is indicated by 1/375:251 other than that it is within rather than outwith the town itself. More work!

Nota bene; at this stage, we have two people about the right age, of the opposite sex, both of whom are straw-plaiters. Straw-plaiting was big business in Orkney for several decades. By 1814, 1,200 to 1,400 people, mostly women, were involved in the work in Orkney. The standard whack was one penny a yard and a woman could earn 10d to 1/6 a day. [Price of a loaf?] Come 1834, according to one of his account books, Robert Mainland of Kirkwall apparently employed 1,707 people straw-plaiting. Of these, 628 were employed in Kirkwall, where the streets were clearly paved with gold. The rest were employed elsewhere in Mainland; 33 in Stromness for example, as well as on several other islands. There were other manufacturers based in Kirkwall (e.g. Ramsay), Stromness (e.g. Heddle) and elsewhere in Orkney.

Initially a factory based manufactory, straw-plaiting evolved into a cottage industry with many women working at home or in quasi-communal workshops. “Just as people gathered together for spinning and weaving, so plaiting also became integrated into the community. Townships often set aside a chaamer for plaiting, so that the work could be done cheerfully in company.” [Fenton, ‘The Northern Isles’ 1978]. They commonly worked 30 or 40 to a room.

Ubi mel ibi apes so small wonder that such places were also the haunt of men. That alone could account for the presence of my g-g-g-grandfather but the unmarried, nineteen-year old James Irvine recorded living at Eath, Aithstown in the Sandwick 1821 census was himself noted as a straw-plaiter. Of the 70 odd straw-plaiters recorded in Sandwick in 1821 only 4 were male, and three of those from one household [13/23] whose head was Ann Linklater! although the surname of these three straw-plaiters was Brass. The only other male straw-plaiter was James Irvine. Propinquity is a great inducement to lechery. One male in a room with 30 or 40 females or, put in its wider context, one male on a small island with one and a half to two thousand female co-workers – well; who'd need social networks?

Although more ‘manly’ occupations were recorded in the 1821 Sandwick Census such as shoemaker, blacksmith, carpenter or labourer, the figures are somewhat misleading. Firstly the data recorded is partial. While place of birth is called for, in not one instance is it recorded, as if the answer was so obvious that it did not need stating; that all those resident in Sandwick were born there. (Twenty years later, the 1841 census records out of the 1,025 inhabitants of Sandwick, only five were born outside Orkney, and those five were all born in Scotland. Greater detail was recorded from 1851.) Similarly the recorded data for occupations seems incomplete. Straw-plaiting is the commonest cited occupation, suggesting that it was a tick-in-a-box type question. Many able bodied individuals have no occupation recorded; they can’t all have been on Parish Relief. Only one man, a Thomas Johnston as it happens! is recorded as a ‘beggar’. Mary Kirkness, residing at the same address, Wart in the Township of Wart! seems to have been unafflicted with Thomas’ Protestant work ethic and has no occupation recorded. [Sandwick 1821: 8/3]

A census records data only for those present on the day the census is taken. The preponderance of able bodied women over able bodied men suggests that many of the latter were absent. One man is recorded as “in the service of the HB Coy” [Hudson’s Bay Company]; another man is noted as a fisherman; six are described as “Sailor Straits” - the straits in question being the Davis Straits, the attraction whales. “Each whaler might want twenty to twenty-five men. In 1816, 34 whaling ships were recorded at Stromness, of which 25 came from Hull. Fifty men from Stromness alone were at the straits in 1821.” [Fenton] Men were recruited in such large numbers for the Northern Fisheries and Hudson’s Bay Company that many parishes noted a decrease in population as was remarked in the First Statistical Account of 1790s. At the time the 1821 census was taken [DATE] fishing and whaling season would have been in full swing. [check!]

The Hudson’s Bay Co. liked employing Orkney men because they were “free of the taint of rebellion in favour of the exiled Stuarts, no recruits being forthcoming for that cause even when Stromness and Kirkwall was briefly in Jacobite hands in 1746.” [Troup and Eunson ‘Stromness -150 Years a Burgh’, 1967] This was not out of misplaced loyalty for the German usurpers but because the Steuarts, as they sometimes spelled themselves in Orkney, were hated, having been for many years oppressive, petty tyrants. Their dynasty, descendants of Robert, “vnlauchfully gotten outwith the bande of marriage” by James V, was happily ended in 1615 with the execution of the father and son Robert and Patrick, not for their tyranny but for vaunting, treasonable ambition proof of which they had foolishly carved in stone over the gateway of their Palace at Birsay. If I can find a scintilla of sympathy for them at all it is because faulty Latin grammar may have cost them their lives. The inscription ROBERTUS STEUARTUS FILIUS JACOBI 5ti REX SCOTORUM HOC AEDIFICIUM INSTRUXIT implies that Robert rather than James was king of the Scots. What might have saved their lives was use of the genitive REGIS to agree with JACOBI rather than the nominative REX agreeing with ROBERTUS – or so I am told! The prosecution cried “treason!” the defence “clerical error” and might have befitted from the later Dr Johnson’s expert testimony; “In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.” As it was, one was destined for the block the other the hangman’s rope. Back to our mouton.

Another circumstance favouring Orcadian employment in the Hudsons Bay Co. was, as noted by Troup and Eunson, that they were “very poor and hence starting wages, rising with each re-enlistment…seemed princely.” In addition they were “accustomed to great hardship and thus could endure the rigours of the Arctic.” [Ib.] By the 1790s three-quarters of the Hudson Bay Company’s employees were recruited from Orkney, several rising to senior positions.

“The main competitor of the Company was the merchant navy and the (Royal) navy itself during times of war.” [Fenton] Nearly 1¼ per cent of the Navy during the War of the American Revolution was recruited or pressed in Orkney, some 1,200 men in all. [The total population in Orkney in 1821 was about 27,000. 1,200 men must have been at least ten per cent of the male population of working age.] The years immediately preceding the 1821 Census were preoccupied with ridding Europe of Napoleon. What proportion of the Navy then was composed of Orcadians I have yet to discover, but it must have been significant. “It has … been estimated that by the time of Trafalgar there were approximately three thousand Shetlanders in the Navy…This figure…represents…half the adult male population of the islands.” [The People of Orkney, Barry 1986].

One way and another, on 28 May 1821 [check date] any number of able bodied men might have been absent from home in Orkney, but not James Irvine, who, unlike many of the other males of working age for whom no occupation is recorded, gave as his occupation straw-plaiter.

“Sandwick was a kind of straw-plaiting centre. Here winter plaiting was complemented by summer work, reaping and preparing the 9 acres of rye that provided the raw material.” [Fenton] At its peak the industry was worth about £30,000 a year. [This is a tenth of what some footballers now earn in a week! That’s progress for you.] A staggering 7,000 women were eventually employed which must have been nearly half of all the women in Orkney. The population of the whole of Orkney in 1851 was around 31,000. Say 10% were children. [Up to the age of 14 children were commonly recorded as ‘scholars’ thereafter they worked; they often worked much younger e.g. “William Belly, aged 10, a servant” as noted above.] Half of the remainder would have been male, leaving a total pool of around 14,000 women. As an industry, straw-plaiting came to an end in Orkney in the 1870s.

The bulk of the work was making straw boaters which, at the time, were very fashionable – until that is, according to popular legend, Queen Victoria put one on her dog and found the effect so hilarious that the demimonde could not face comparison with the Queen’s pug.

Johnston was not an uncommon name in Orkney; in Sandwick in 1821 there are 35 recorded compared with 39 Linklater and 36 Irvine. Figures for the parish of Stromness in 1821 are; Johnston 31, Linklater 60, Irvine 108 - again, no Irving.

So, Catherine Johnston and James Irvine, whoever exactly they were, get it together probably some time in November 1824, (and possibly not for the first time – see below) when there are an accommodating seventeen hours of darkness.

You may do in the dark
What the day doth forbid;
Fear not the dogs that bark,
Night will have all hid.    [Thomas Campion: Hark All You Ladies]

The lady should have harkened less to Campion and more to Ephesians; have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Because, according to Corinthians, be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. [That’s me fucked then.] Pithier, from a little later, is: Flee fornication! Must have been a bad lot, those Corinthians, which makes me wonder why my brother named his boat Corinthian.

Nine months later, on 19 August 1825 to be precise, Catherine gave birth to Janet. (It is possible that Catherine had already born James “a son” in 1819. Just that – “a son, 1819”, and the correct year of Janet’s birth, are noted on the ‘Irvines of Croval’ spreadsheet q.v.) Apart from being recorded in the baptismal register as noted above, Janet does not resurface officially until 1841 apart from the rather mysterious reference to James Irvine and his wife Margaret Corigal with ‘their’ daughter Janet in Rev. C. Clouston’s 1831 census as noted above. But in the 1841 census Janet herself is recorded, in the first of seven censuses, as living at Aith in Sandwick. The same census also records residents named James Irvine at;

1/6 North Dyke, 35, farmer, married to Catherin (sic) aged 30
1/9 North Dyke, 50, farmer, married to Marrian also 50
3/24 at Mount, a 1 year old.

None of these old die-hard Irvine spellers is our man who, for some reason, in the 1841 census, took to spelling his name with a g rather than an e. Thus we have;

3/57 James Irving, Chamber of Aith, 40, agricultural labourer. Married to:
  Margaret Irving aged 35; another James Irving, 5; Matilda Irving, 4;
  and Jamima Irving aged 1.

Living in an adjacent property were Janet with her presumed aunt Sibella, sister to the above James, and their mother, also Sibella who, most tellingly, all follow James’ g-shift and are Irvings to a man – except of course there isn’t one because he’s elsewhere;

3/56 East Aith; Sibella Irving aged 75; Sibella Irving aged 35;
  Janet Irving, 15; John Tait, 12, herd.

The only confusion arises from the fact that the North Dyke James Irvine recorded in 1821 recurs in the 1841 census married to a Catherin (sic) [1/6 above]. Although the ages are about right, as are the names, I think it is mere coincidence. There is also the fact of Janet being recorded as ‘illegitimate’ on her death certificate; had her parents eventually married, Janet’s status would surely have been legitimized? I pose the question as I do not know the answer!

The most likely link is that provided by the two Sibellas suggesting that the James Irvine recorded in 1821 [16/6] living with them at Eath, Aithstown was most likely to have been my great-great-great-grandfather, and the older Sibella Janet’s grandmother, the younger Sibella her aunt. If true it also means I acquire two new great-great-great-great-grandparents, Thomas Irvine and his wife Sibella, née Baikie. Hello! [Another Baikie, Marion, aged 48, was recorded married to John Johnston in the Sandwick 1821 census and living at East House, Tenstown. Living with them was, among others, Jannet Johnston, yet another strawplaiter – 4/4. ]

4/4 East House, Tenstown: John Johnston, 59, farmer; Marion Johnston née Baikie, 48;
  Jannet Johnston, 27, strawplaiter; John Johnston, 22, showmaker;
  Isabella Johnston, 11; William Johnston, 5.

Let’s have a picture.

sandwick_stromness_thomson.jpg The collection of buildings referred to variously as Aith, East Aith, Eath, Aith Post Office, Chamber of Aith etc. cluster around the road junction at the eastern end of the Loch of Skaill. Aficionados of Orkney maps might be amazed at the accuracy of the above map, based, as it is, on John Thomson’s 1822 original. That’s because I have corrected several errors in the original; even so, there’s still plenty wrong with it! East House is marked EH and Kierfold as K. So; any straw-plaiter from Stromness wishing to confer with her sister straw-plaiter in Tenston would very likely have passed through Aith. Indeed, the Tenston sister might have pursued her craft in a communal setting somewhere in Aith itself where Irvines lurked. The clincher, were one required given the two Sibellas and the Clouston census, is that of all the Irvines in Sandwick in 1821 only James and his immediate family members change the spelling of their name from Irvine to Irving. The truth will out James! Why James married Margaret Corgil rather than making an honest woman of Catherine Johnston I have no idea, unless James took the view “why buy the cow when you can steal milk through the fence?” Nor do I know what became of Catherine Johnston. In 1841 there were 3 recorded in Sandwick;

2/7 1 at Linklater (the place), aged 15
2/10 1 at Scaebrae aged 25, yet another strawplaiter
3/54 1 at Kierfiold aged 40, apparently unmarried but in the same household as George groundwater, 55, farmer; William Groundwater, 15; and Catherine Groundwater, 10.

If this lineage holds true then this last is the only Catherine Johnston whose age tallies. If she was actually born in 1796, as suggested by the 1821 Stromness census, the fact that her age is given as 40 is not a killer-blow as ages in early censuses were often arbitrarily rounded up or down by five or so years. But the connection is tenuous at best.

The mists of time smore Catherine closer than a steekit Orkney haar. A slight breeze swirls the mist, briefly revealing the dim outline of a figure before it vanishes again forever. That was Catherine Johnston for whom I can find no convincing record after 1841. George Groundwater, who, as above, had a Catherine Johnston living under the same roof in 1841, is described in the 1851 census as aged 66, a miller and a widower. There were no other Groundwaters recorded in 1841 other than the two minors William and the another Catherine, so what became of ‘Mrs Groundwater’, and when, is not recorded, the 1841 census taking no note of marital status so George could have been a widower in 1841. It is also possible that George married Catherine Johnston after 1841 who then died before the 1851 Census, to be noted only by her absence. There are, however, no records of a marriage between any Catherine Johnston and a Groundwater between 1841 and 1851, nor any deaths of any convincing Catherine Johnstons between 1841 and 1900.

Nor was there any Irving in Sandwick in 1851; the two Sibellas, aged 80 and 46, reverted to Irvine and were living at East Aith [3/20] whereas Janet, now aged 25, had become Mrs David Linklater and, along with an expanding household, was also living at East Aith [3/19]. Indeed, from 1821 to 1911 there is no Irving recorded in Sandwick other than those noted above in 1841. That said, in Orkney Irving was the more popular spelling in the C18, Irvine in the C19. As for James Irvine/Irving, according to one source he, his wife Margaret and their unnatural children Margaret, Isabella, Mareon, James, Matilda, Jamima and Anne emigrated to Tuckeresmith, Huron, Ontario, in 1842.