Monday, 28 October 2019

Orkney Witchcraft Trial Source Books and Archives

The archive sources listed below are from the collections of Orkney historians and archivists of the past. Without the dedication of these people, the following items would not have been saved.  
The published sources in the Orkney Room have been collected for this room by all our Librarians of the past and present. Many thanks to them too.
We owe all of these people a huge debt of gratitude. All archive and published sources are available to see in the Orkney Library and Archive.

Orkney Council Records Collection (Reference CO1)

An entry in the Commissioners of Supply minute book of 1669. The Commissioners of Supply were first established in 1667 for collecting the cess or national land tax. The commissioners were landowners charged with collecting the tax from their fellow landowners. But they also acquired duties which ranged beyond the collection of land tax and with the justices of the peace were responsible for county roads, bridges and ferries.
CO1/1/1 - Orkney Commissioners of Supply minute book, 1660-1678 

Item 6 on the above page reads:
"to procure a warrand from the Counsill to the Justicia and Justices of his Maj[es]ties Pease; for putting pf Witches and Incestuous persons to a Triall."
Item 6

Ernest Walker Marwick Collection (D31)

Ernest W Marwick (1915-1977), was an author, journalist, broadcaster, historian and folklorist. He researched and collected a large amount of information on those who were accused of witchcraft in Orkney. Here is an image summing up his findings in a single page.

Summary Sheet (Reference: D31/4/3)
His subsequent article Northern Witches was published in the book "An Orkney Anthology" in 1981 and is available to see in the Orkney Room under reference 800 Y MAR

Cover of "An Orkney Anthology"
Beginning of article Northern Witches from pages 333-383 in An Orkney Anthology

About book and the author
A scribbled note from the Ernest Marwick Collection refers to Peterkin's Rentals of Orkney which lists some women as witches in the rental of 1595. This book can be seen in the Orkney Room under reference number  333 Y. The last one in the list says "Jonet of Cara quha was brunt for witchcraft" (Janet of Cara who was burnt for witchcraft).
Extract from EWM Collection Ref: D31/52/6/2

Extracted references from
Peterkin's Rental 1595
A list typed by Ernest Marwick of 8 questions put to Barbara Boundie led me to the original Orkney Presbytery minute book entry of 1643 in which all ten questions put to her can be read. The handwriting shown in this presbytery book on page 256 is surprisingly legible for the time period.

Typed list of questions (Reference: D31/1/5/15)

Original presbytery minute book (Reference: OCR/4/1)

Albert Thomson's Collection (D66)
Albert Thomson was curator of St Magnus Cathedral for 32 years from 1946 until his retirement in 1978. His collection is made up of archive items collected by him and notes made by him. This is a single page original document of a woman accused of witchcraft in 1679.
Evidence from John Mowatt and John Flett against Margaret Sclater,
accusing her of witchcraft, Firth Parish 1679. (Ref: D66/1/19)
This is a transcription presumably by Mr Thomson himself. (Ref: D66/1/19)
 Published Sources in the Orkney Room
Abbotsford Club Miscellany Trials for Witchcraft, Sorcery and Superstition in Orkney contains:
The trial of Marable Couper for witchcraft, sorcery and superstition, 1624
The trial of Annie Tailzeour [Taylor] alias Rwna Rowa for witchcraft, sorcery and superstition, 1624
Examination of the Charges of Witchcraft and Sorcery against Marione Richart or Layland before the Kirk Session of Sanday, 1633. The trial of Marione Richart, alias Layland for witchcraft, sorcery and divination, 1633.
The trial of Katherine Craigie, alias Estquoy, for witchcraft, sorcery and superstition, 1640. Second trial of Katherine Craigie, 1643.
[Orkney Room Reference 133.4Y]

SC11 - Orkney Sheriff Court Records
The Sheriff was a royal official appointed to help the monarch establish control in the localities. Sheriff performed a wide variety of duties, administrative, financial, military as well as judicial. Judicially, the sheriffs dealt with both civil and criminal cases and appeals as well as first time cases. Our collection is held in the Orkney Archive under Charge and Superintendence from the National Records of Scotland.

SC11/5 - Civil Court Processes

SC11/5/1646/010 - Janet/Jonet Rendall in Rigga. Indicted for Witchcraft in 1646
SC11/5/1646/010 Trial of Janet Rendall page 1

SC11/5/1646/010 Trial of Janet Rendall page 2

SC11/5/1646/010 Trial of Janet Rendall page 3
The indictment of Jonet Rendall in Rigga, in the parish of Rendall is catalogued as part of the Civil Court Processes Collection. Unfortunately a transcription for this document is not in the Orkney Archive collections. It is also extremely fragile.

SC11/79 Miscellanea - Transcripts of documents deposited in H. M. Register House (Now National Records of Scotland) by George H. M. Thoms, Sheriff of Orkney and Shetland from 1870-1903.

SC11/79/1 - In this book is a complete transcript of Katherine Grieve's trial from 1633 and also the trial of Janet Rendall of Rigga from 1629 (first three pages shown below).

SC11/79/1 - Trial of Janet Rigga page 271

SC11/79/1 - Trial of Janet Rigga page 272

SC11/79/1 - Trial of Janet Rigga page 273
Joseph Storer Clouston Collection [D23]
J. Storer Cluston OBE, FSA Scot, JP 1870-1944, was a novelist, historian, antiquarian and chairman of the Orkney Antiquarian Society. He wrote "A History of Orkney" in 1932.
D23/14/8 - Indictment for "witchcraft, sorcerie and divining" of Helen Isbister, vagabond, 1635. There is no transcription available for this document in the Orkney Archive. It is written in Secretary Script which uses difference letter forms than we use now. A useful source for learning to read this script is the Scottish Handwriting website.
D23/14/8 - Indictment of Helen Isbister, page 1

D23/4/8 - Indictment for Helen Isbister, page 2

D23/14/8 - Indictment for Helen Isbister, page 3
John Mooney Collection [D49]
John Mooney, 1862-1950, was a reporter on the 'Orkney and Shetland Telegraph' for a brief time, then in 1884 joined R. Garden Ltd, general merchant. He was a keen historian and a founder member of the Orkney Antiquarian Society. He published various publications concerning the history of Orkney.

D49/3/12 - A reference in John Mooney's collection leads to a single page entry in the 1913 Peace's Almanac regarding Katherine Grieve.

D49/3/12 Katherine Grieve, an Evie Witch p152-153
A set of Peace's Almanacs from 1868-1940 is available to see in the Orkney Room stored with the Periodicals under reference 914.1 YZ.
Published Sources in the Orkney Room
County Folklore Volume III - Orkney and Shetland Islands - Contains the Trial of Janet Forsyth accused of witchcraft. [Orkney Room Reference 390 YZ]
Witch Stories - A collection of stories about witches and witchcraft in Scotland. Contains references to Orkney witches Margaret Balfour, Alison Balfour, Katherine Grant, Marion Richart, Elspeth Cursiter, Janet Rendall, Janet Forsyth, Katherine Grieve, John Sinclair, Bessie Skebister, Catherine Craigie, James Knarston, Marion Comloquoy and Catherine Taylor. [Orkney Room Reference 398]
The Darker Superstitions of Scotland - includes many references to Orkney witches and witchcraft. Alison Balfour, Margaret Balfour, Katherine Bigland, Katherine Caray, David Comloquoy, Marion Comloquoy, Thomas Corse, Marable Couper, Katherine Craigie, Elspeth Cursiter, James Daill, John Faw, Janet Forsyth, Christian Gow, Katherine Grant, William Gude, James Hourston, Helen Hunter, Janet Irving, Helen Isbister, Alexander Knarston, Cirstane Leask, Oliver Leask, Magnus Linay, Christian Marwick, John Master, Katherine Miller, Janet Rendall, Elspeth Reoch, Marion Richart, Margaret Sandison, Geillis Sclater, Agnes Scottie, William Scottie, Isobel Sinclair, Janet Sinclair, John Sinclair, Bessie Skebister, Annie Taylor, Janet Thomson, Agnes Tulloch and Helen Wallis. [Orkney Room Reference 398]

Other Published Sources in the Orkney Room
133.4: General Scottish books
which mention Orkney witches and witchcraft trials
133.4 Y: Specific Orkney books
which are mainly about Orkney witches and witchcraft trials.
398 and 390 YZ: Folklore books which include stories
about Orkney and Shetland witches.

This is a selection of the sources available on this subject, not our complete list, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what we have.
This list was requested by the group dedicated to unveiling a memorial to the victims of the Orkney witchcraft trials. On 30 October 2018 they held a creative day to gather items to add to a time capsule which was to be buried underneath the memorial. On 9th March 2019 they successfully unveiled the memorial at Gallowha in Kirkwall where many of the victims were executed. More information can be found here.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Harvest Home

It is harvest time in Orkney and the fields are full of beautiful, golden bundles. Gardeners are gathering up their vegetables and children will soon be piling up cans of soup and beans for their Harvest assemblies.

In celebration, we bring you an excerpt from Ernest Walker Marwick's The Lore of the Harvest which discusses the straw 'bikko' dog made from the straw in the last field. Below is an example of said 'bikko'.

We also found a J. Omond photo of some Orphir schoolgirls gathering peas, the sadly ruined harvest of 1909 (another Omond image) and a lovely harvest tea-break or 'half yoke'.

For more Orcadian harvest lore, click here.

The dreaded straw bikko - ultimate insult to a harvesting farmer.
Click to enlarge

Picking peas in Orphir.

Snow ruined the Harvest of 1909.



A well-earned break.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Wild Orkney

Today's Folklore Thursday theme is 'wild men, wild women, wild places.'

One wild place in Orkney is the island of Swona.

Swona is an island situated in the Pentland Firth, south of Orkney and to the West of South Ronaldsay. It is often confused with Stroma which is further South and therefore seen as part of Caithness.

This island has been uninhabited since 1974 when batchelor Jim Rosie left and there were only ever about 8 houses on the island. Its position in the Pentland Firth means that it is not easily accessible and therefore it is rarely visited.

People who have made the trip have returned with descriptions of houses left as if the occupants had meant to return moments later. Pictures are still on the walls and the tables are set for tea.

The only inhabitants are a herd of beef cattle which are now feral and have become a seperate species. Apparently, these cattle forage for seaweed and move around the island in one unit like a scary cow gang. As somone who is already scared of cows, I have made a mental note to never visit this island.

As for wild men and women, the amphibious, shape-shifting Finfolk were said to live in Finfolkaheem, described variously as either a vanishing island, a city at the bottom of the sea, or perhaps the island of Eynhallow.

'The sand of that country was gold dust, its palaces, built of coral and crystal and adorned with pearls and precious stones, shone like stars in the weird light of that magic land; all furniture and utensils were silver and gold; the halls were hung with gorgeous curtains, the colours of which were like the aurora borealis in most brilliant coruscations.'

Sanday man Arthur Deerness was apparently dragged down to this magical submarine land and enchanted by a mermaid named Auga. He forgot all about his family, home and fiancé Clara Peace.

Clara was distraught at his appearance and the local speywife, Marion of Grindalay determined to help her. Locking herself away for the night, Marion emerged in the morning looking spent yet cheerful.

Meanwhile, Arthur's first night in Finfolkaheem had been full of rich foods, fine wines and the bed of Auga. The only irritation had been a black cat which stole some food, spilt his wine and came between him and his mermaid bride in their matrimonial bed. The cat later appeared whilst the couple sat together and, grabbing Arthur's finger, traced a cross on Auga's brow.

The enchantment was instantly broken and Arthur found himself on the rocks at Hamaness, the exact spot he'd disappeared from, free to return to Clara's waiting arms.

Image of Swona's feral cattle taken from article Feral Cattle of Swona, Orkney Islands, by S. J. G. Hall and G. F. Moore.

Finfolkaheem story taken from Walter Traill Dennison's Orkney Folklore and Traditions and information on Fin Folk taken from The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland by Ernest W. Marwick.

Friday, 16 August 2019

A Stack in Time

Our Palaeography Group is now heading towards its 20th week. We have enjoyed finding out about life in the 17th century from all the documents we have read and transcribed. One in particular stands out in our minds as being a bit unusual. An unlucky Kirkwall resident got more than he bargained for when he tried to bend the rules involving peat stacks. Peat is used as a fuel on Orkney instead of wood.

A cart carrying peat, 1904 photographed by Tom Kent (Ref: TK1153)
It was written in 1686 and is a Supplication by Magnus Moir, a prisoner in the Tolbooth, to the Magistrates of Kirkwall asking for liberty from his confinement for stealing peats.

But from Mr Moir's explanation below you find that he didn't exactly steal peat:
"Unto the much honoured Lord provost ballies and counsell of the brugh (burgh) house of Kirkwall

The humble supplication of your poor distressed prisoner Magnus Moir indweller thair


Broad Street, Kirkwall showing a later tolbooth on the left.
That whair it hath been your ho[nour]s pleasure to incarserat me within your tolbuith (prison) of Kirkwall for my contemning (despising) your authorities in building up of peats upon my stack standing upon the... pier grounds of that pairt of the toune of Kirkwall called the brugh (burgh)  

Extract of original document D10/12/1 transcribed in the paragraph below

Where to your ho[nour]s has now the onlie good and indutable right and in which peat stack I having simplie taken out some peats out of the middle thereof and made up an emptie pleace therein for sheltering therein ane kow (cow) for a nights tyme or tuo (two) to stand until such tyme as she was killed for my necces[a]r[y] mentenance

Yet nevertheless it has pleased your ho[nour]s to look upon this as ane act of great crueltie and highist contempt against your priviledges
A stack of peat, c1900 photographed by Tom Kent (ref: TK2328)

Though before I presume to attempt any such thing either in building peats or utherwayes I demanded libertie from my Lord Dean of Guild and tuo of the present magistrates who gave me libertie for that effect:

And sieng (seeing) it hath been your pleasure not only to impose upon me ane fyne for so doeing But also to punish my person by imprisonment now be the space of tuelve dayes bygone wherethrough I have sustained seickness in my old infirme persone and loss in my household affairs.

Extract of original document D10/12/1 transcribed in the paragraph below

May it therefore please your ho[nour]s to take the hail premiss to your serious consideration and look upon my sadde conditione as a poor Christian doeth deserve and to permit me the libertie of freedome from your tolbuith dureing which space yow shall think fit to the effect I may care for and look after the sadde conditione that my starving wyff and famillie at home 

Extract of original document D10/12/1 transcribed in the paragraph below

I being most willing for my liberation to find good and suffitient cautione actit in your ho[nour]s toune court book not onlie to re-enter to persone againe when ye shall appoynt But also to be lyable in payment and satisfactione of what soumes (sums) your ho[nour]s shall think fitt to impos upon me for my presumptowows (presumptuous) contemning (despising) your auth[orties] in maner foresaid And for all uther causes and esceaps I shall be found guiltie off in tyme by gone and your ho[nour]s answer is humblie beggit and craved with your best convenience by your supplicants poor petitioner who shall ever pray.

Magnus Moir

Extract from the original document D10/12/2 transcribed in the paragraph below.

Kirkwall the seventeen day of Nov[embe]r 1686

The magistrates and counsell haveing taken [the] thereafter written supplicatione to their consideration they ordanes him to pay this day to the thesaurer (treasurer) of the brugh (burgh) tuentie pounds Scotts money."

It must have been a very large stack of peats to hollow out for a cow for a couple of nights. But then a stack built on the pier could have been made up of tax paid in kind by the tenants of Orkney to the magistrates of Kirkwall and used to fuel the fires of the residents of Kirkwall.

In the Kirkwall Town Council minutes of 19th January 1687 is the following statement:

"1T.viH Four scoir six yeirs (1686 years), qch (which) recept is daittit (dated) the twentie day of No[vembe]r last past, at the qlk tyme that sowme with the twentie pounds mo[n[ey fors[ai]d produceit be Thomas Brown qch he receaved from Mags Moir for his fine"

So Magnus Moir paid his fine 3 days later, and presumably gained his release from the Tolbooth (prison).

It is great to be able to decipher this old faded document and share it with a new audience. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Sources used:
D10/12/2 - 1686: Supplication by Magnus Moir (Collected by James Tait, cabinetmaker); Original (K1/1/3) and book (2285924) - Kirkwall Town Council minutes transcribed by Morris Pottinger. Picture of Broad Street, c 1780 from book Kirkwall in the Orkneys by B H Hossack, 1900. Photos by Tom Kent: TK1153 and TK2328

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

We Love Words

We love words in the Orkney Archive, we love discovering words we haven't heard of before and we love words we have heard of but have different meanings. Today we bring you


In a recent search for marriages in the Stromness Old Parish Register (Ref: OPR/30/3) on microfilm, we found this phrase from 1740:

"pawn money consigned in the Clerk's hand"

How intriguing, we thought [we're so easily intrigued], why is "pawn" being used in a marriage announcement?

Someone instantly sped to the bookshelves and found The Concise Scots Dictionary, 1991 and looked it up.

The definitions are: "1. pawn, a pledge [so far so normal] 2. pawn, usually in plural a sum of money deposited with the kirk session by a couple as a guarantee of their intention to marry within 40 days and of their chaste conduct in the interval, late 16th - early 19th century. [Aha!] and in the phrase lay doon the pawns: make official notification of one's intention to marry, arrange for the proclamation of banns."

In the Chambers English Dictionary the above definition is not mentioned, but it does say that pawn can also be a peacock, a gallery or covered walkway and [of course] a chess piece.

The full proclamation of marriage is here:

"Dec 4th [1739]Magnus Coupar and Margaret Newgar both in this parish were contracted and pawn money consigned in the Clerk's hand and January 1st 1740 that the said Magnus Coupar and Margaret Newgar were lawfully married and dues payed."

We love words!

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Orkney Pride

It's London Pride today and so we thought we'd see if we had any rainbow-themed archives to celebrate...

The obvious place to start was with John W. Scott's wonderful book of Orkney and Shetland weather words:

gaa: a fragment of rainbow... a small rainbow in the horizon... a spot or ray of a rainbow colour which appears near the sun, generally in dry windy weather, and which indicates some change in the weather

The word also appears in The Orkney Dictionary by Margaret Flaws and Gregor Lamb:

gaa n. sun-dog, bit of rainbow before or behind the

'A gaa behind ye needno mind,
A gaa afore, lukk for a roar'

Ernest Walker Marwick's papers were the next port of call and they contain a paper written by George Marwick on the subjects of Rainbows, Aurora Borealis, Igasill The Tree of Life and a legendary Stronsay Wedding:

Rainbows foretold the birth of a baby boy. Orkney Archive Reference D31/4/1/2
Our last (tenuous) rainbow themed archive is an excerpt from a 1783 edition of The Morning Post, and Daily Advertiser which briefly reports the Orcadian exploits of a piratical smuggler aboard the Rainbow Cutter:

Orkney Archive reference D1/660/25 [H1]