Saturday, 21 February 2015

Get Off My Island!

Frances Ligonier Balfour

Long-term readers may remember our great excitement when Eastenders hosted a live episode for their 25th anniversary. 'How can this be topped?' we asked. By live WEEK 30th anniversary Eastenders, that's how.

We have been celebrating here in the archive by beating each other on the head with ashtrays, having secret affairs and accusing loved ones of murder. We have also spent most of our working hours in the pub or the caff without detriment to our jobs. Sorry customers.

We have also had a look at Orkney's own steely matriarch of the Balfour family, Frances Ligonier Balfour.

Frances has been described as 'supercilious, ironic with a sharp wit and fond of argument'.

Although the daughter of an aristocratic father, Frances was actually illegitimate but this does not seem to have harmed her social standing. Intelligent and clever and plain, Frances had struggled in the late 18th century marriage market until she met 'flamboyant and charming' Thomas Balfour. Tom was ten years her junior so Frances lied about her age and they were wed soon after meeting.

Frances had three children in her late thirties and was devoted to them and her beloved husband who, unfortunately, kept disappearing off to Dublin only to return with lice, typhus fever and illegitimate children on the way.

As Tom lay on his death bed, Frances coolly received a volley of increasingly frantic letters from her husband's pregnant mistress. She agreed to uphold Tom's offer of a £50/year annuity for the child and to keep in touch.

"my daughter was a legacy bequeathed to you and I have no doubt you will fulfil your promise." (The mysterious Mrs Jackson/M/Clifford to Frances soon after her daughter's birth.)

The year before, Frances had been outraged by her daughter Mary's elopement with the socially inferior Church minister Alexander Brunton.

"I have been betray'd by the blackest ingratitude and perfidy.They went to Glasgow as soon as the ceremony was performed. They are still there but have not condescended to write,." (Frances to her sister-in -law).

Mary and Alexander further horrified her when informing her of their plans to take in lodgers to make ends meet.

 "Your Sister and her Husband I am inform'd are to go to reside in Edinburgh immediately. They propose taking Boarders. I wish I was rich enough to prevent so disgraceful a means of increasing their Income" (Frances to her son William).

Frances was more relaxed about William's love life as, 5 years after the elopement, when he was considering taking a wife she gave him this advice:

"Let it not raise your vanity if I tell you, I believe you may throw your handkerchief to any of our Orkney Belles. Men are scarce, competence scarcer, and a Gentleman the scarcest of the three. You ask me if there is any good natured Girl of my Acquaintance who would accept of you? In a matter of such importance you shou'd chuse for yourself, but my present advice is (tho' rather a licentious one for a parent,) that, for a year to come you wou'd take a Mistress, not into keeping, but a Lady who can keep you..."

Like all the best soap matriarchs, Frances didn't mince her words and was as tough as old boots. She died of a terminal illness in 1813 leaving behind a rich, well-spiced correspondence for future historians to savour.

"You can have no idea what a set of wretches this Country (Orkney) is inhabited. An honest Man would almost stand alone in it."

Frances' angry letter after the elopement of her daughter, Mary. D2/8/16
 Information taken from Orkney Archive references:


Who Was Who In Orkney by W. S. Hewison

The Orkney Balfours 1747-99 by Ray Fereday


  1. What a commotion! ^_^ You guys must have been having a lot of fun in the pub and the caff, planning your own episodic adventures.

    I, fortunately, will not have to write an angry letter about my daughter's eloping with a cad and a bounder. She is getting married in our home church, to a very nice gentleman (he's a Cajun), on March 14. That's Pi Day, in case you didn't notice: 3.1415. John said he needed an anniversary date he could remember.


  2. What great news Sue, congratulations from afar! Pi Day indeed!

  3. Thanks! The date is looming closer and closer. O_O



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