Friday, 28 May 2010

A Letter From Canada

A common question from our overseas family history researchers is 'why did my ancestors leave Orkney?' The question is answered in part by this letter written in 1863 by William Cromarty, inhabitant of Langly, British Columbia, Canada to his brother in Stromness, Magnus Cromarty.

At first reading, one's initial reaction is, why did William stay in Canada, as he seems to be having such a terrible time.

The letter begins with William telling his brother that two of his children, girls aged 12 and 16, have died. It seems that the girls went swimming  and came back complaining of 'Bely acke' which soon developed into 'Desentry or Bludy Flux.' The oldest girl died after one month's sickness and 12 days later, the younger sister died of 'crupe in the throat' after infecting her mother.

This tragedy is further compounded by somebody breaking into the house whilst William's wife and daughters are sick and stealing seven sovereigns from his chest. William admits that he may have blamed his extremely ill and bed-ridden wife for letting this happen and she has 'got offended' and 'went away in a funk' over four months ago.

'Surely that is it', you think, but no; there is more. William's children are in charge of feeding his cattle but the winter has been so cold that the water troughs froze over. The children 'neglected to Bracke the ice' and 14 of William's cows died.

He goes on to complain about how very expensive provisions are and says that his 16 year old daughter is his company now but, as there are few women in Langly, she will soon be snapped up as a wife.

The amazing thing is that William does not seem at all sorry for himself and indeed confesses himself to be 'surprised' that Magnus is to afraid to come to Canada. he tells his brother about his two claims of land; one is under his name, the other is being kept aside for his son.

'I have got plenty to eat and drink and I am always in my owen bed at night and can save a little tou', he says. It seems that owning your own land and lying down under a roof that belonged to you was worth a great deal to men like William who would undoubtedly have rented a tiny piece in Orkney along with the vast majority of the population.

Life was tough in Canada, but it was tough in Orkney too. The hardiness that living in an Orcadian climate brought is the reason that so many Orcadians were engaged to work in Canada by the Hudson bay Company. See? Everyone who lives here is hard as nails! Grrrrrrrrrrrr! We'll cut ya!

(We won't at all, we'll probably shower you with tea and scones and say 'fine' a lot.)

Reference D1/27/1

No comments:

Post a Comment

Are you delighted by what you have just read? Are you revulsed and appalled? Do let us know, we'd love to hear from you.