Friday, 3 July 2020

The Identity of William Balfour

My confusion of two men with the same name and where it led me...

A new post from The Balfour Blogger #2

There is so much in the Balfour papers. One letter can lead you on a long trail to sort out the context. Like many other families, the Balfours used the same given names over and over again, sometimes in the same generation, but different branches. In my own family, my mother was Catherine, an older sister was Catherine and she named her daughter Catherine. For women in earlier generations, there was little chance of confusion as they tended to take their husband's surname when they married. However, for men the possibility of confusion is multiplied. 

On the outside of letter D2/24/1/76, there is a notation that the letter is from 'Col. W. Balfour' 

Letter referenced D2/24/1/76 from Balfour papers

I had already dealt with many letters from 'Capt. Balfour', for example D2/24/1/32.

Letter referenced D2/24/1/32 from Balfour papers

My first thought was to work out if this was the same person. The first hint was the date of receipt - 13 Nov 1824. I had already catalogued many from Captain William Balfour dated to the year 1825, so already I was suspicious. Did Capt W Balfour become Lt Col W Balfour? I assumed not: one rank was Navy and the other Army. Next, the writing was quite different. And then, the address was Sydney, New South Wales. So now to work out which of the many 'William Balfours' was sending a letter from Australia to John Balfour MP in 1824. 

William Balfour (1719-1786) had three sons, John (1750-1842), Thomas (1751-1799) and David (1754-1813) and several daughters. John had no children; Thomas had two sons and a daughter; David had one son and a daughter. One of Thomas Balfour's sons was called William (1781-1846) and one of David Balfour's sons was called William (1784-1838). So, both these William Balfours were alive in 1824. The elder William (son of Thomas) became Captain William Balfour R.N. of Elwick 4th of Trenaby, lived mainly in Edinburgh, and acted for John Balfour both as his agent and in regards to his holdings and the politics of Orkney and Shetland. The younger William (son of David) became Lieutenant Colonel William Balfour of the 82nd Regiment at Edinburgh Castle. So, now I had worked out which William Balfour had written the letter, David's son. 

The letter contains complaints about his superior officer, Colonel Thornton. In particular because he, William, his wife and young family had been turned out of their quarters for Colonel Thornton's mistress. 
"Colonel Thornton our commanding officer has arrived in as good a state of Body as he has been for some years, but I conceive somewhat impaired in his intellect. My principal reason for saying so is his having brought to this country a woman as his mistress for whose accommodation he has turned my wife and children our of the appartments we occupyed in Barracks" 

He is not too concerned because out of present evil often arises future good. In fact, he had been offered a position that could not only get him out of his present predicament, but could prove advantageous. 

"His Excellency Sir Thos. Brisbane the governor has promised to give me a command which will remove me from the possibility of the commanding officer's caprice...has promised also to reserve a portion of land for two of my boys..."

The portion of land quoted is 4000 acres. 

He hoped that "the small beginning which is only in my power to command could be of use, for by the time it would be proper for either of them to come out here there would be a great accumulation of sheep and horned cattle on the Farm..."

At the time of this letter in November 1824, Lt Col William Balfour said he was bound for India and his plan was for his wife to stay in Australia to sort out the farm, then to return to Europe and employ a "bailiff under the superintendency of a gentleman of high respectability". 

This was not, in fact, what happened. In January 1825, he arrived in Sydney with a group of prisoners on the ship Castle Forbes. He then went with a detachment to Port Dalrymple in Van Dieman's Land (now Launceston in Tasmania). He was appointed civil and military commandant in April 1825. In August 1825, his wife Charlotte died in Launceston, leaving him with 5 sons and 3 daughters to look after. In February 1826, he went to Sydney to transfer command of the regiment to Van Dieman's Land. On his return, he defeated Matthew Brady and his bushrangers, to the delight of the locals. The area was divided between civil and military commands, and he was put in charge of all the military districts. He was also granted 2000 acres of land. In Hobart Town, he was chosen as president of the committee for the public stores and civil establishment. Among his works there, he is remembered for extending the barracks at Hobart to ensure there was no overcrowding and so removing a source of disorder among the soldiers.

So, a simple letter from a man to his uncle has led me on a path of discovery of the military life of William Balfour. He entered military service as a boy-ensign and joined the 40th foot on 25th July 1799. He rose through the ranks and received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy for service in the field in the Peninsula and south of France in 1813-1814. He received the gold medal in command of his regiment at the battle of Nivelle. He also mentioned in both the British Dictionary of National Biography and in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Wonder what my next adventure with the Balfour papers will be. 

Monday, 8 June 2020

The Wreck of the Jonge Louisa - a gift from the sea

A new post from the Balfour Blogger:

On 12th February 1785, Pat Hagart, Factor to the Earldom of Orkney, sat down at his desk in Kirkwall and began a two year correspondence with Messrs Jean Texier, ship owners in Amsterdam, which ended with a fraction of the value of their beautiful brigantine and her cargo being delivered to them in January 1787.

Pat Hagart, as representative of the Crown in matters of the sea, had received news of a remarkable event off Deerness, the most easterly parish on mainland Orkney, and had gone to there to investigate.
D5-29-3 Extract of Letter written by Pat Hagart in 1785
In the previous month of 1785, on Sunday 16th January, a brigantine had been found three or four leagues east of Orkney. She was in a desperate condition...and with much difficulty brought to land but without any person aboard. Pat Hagart does not say who had first spotted her, but that seven boats from Deerness went out to the stricken vessel and established that not a single person remained aboard.
Example of an 18th century Brigantine
By John Robinson, George Francis Dow - The Sailing Ships of New England 1607-1907,
Public Domain,
The brigantine was found at least 11 miles/16.5 kilometres out. It was January, when the weather could be inclement and dangerous, yet someone in Deerness or out at sea to the east saw the vessel and then William Stove of Pickletillum, Robert Stove of Sandside, Andrew Cormack of Netherby, Oliver Craigie of Breck, Edward Ritch of Cutpool, Andrew Skea in Copinsay and Edward Pottinger (probably of Copinsay) set out, with 33 others, at the oars of seven boats to see what was afoot.

What they found was the Jonge Louisa, the wreck of a beautiful ship, minus one of her masts and no-one answering the Deerness men when they hailed her. Somehow the men boarded her and with much difficulty brought [her] to land.
A Brigantine Caught on a Lee Shore Painting by Richard Henry Nibbs
It is not clear where the Jonge Louisa was brought to; probably first to the island of Copinsay and subsequently to Sandside on the east coast of Deerness. Pat Hagart describes her in his letter on 9th April 1785 as being in an unfavourable situation. In November 1785 Thomas Balfour, on behalf of his brother John Balfour, owner of Copinsay, was claiming salvage on the Jonge Louisa. This suggests she was moored off Copinsay, or on Copinsay, at some time. Thomas also writes of bringing her into Sandside.

The excitement and speculation in Deerness must have been enormous. The men who brought her in were all from the east side of the parish. They were experienced seamen, the workforce of a peninsula that is almost an island, living by a combination of the land and the sea. Life was not easy in 1785. High numbers of young men were leaving Orkney to join the British Army, the Royal Navy or to go to the Nor Wast to work for the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. But that January Deerness fielded 40 men to rescue the Jonge Louisa. The possibilities for advantage from saving her were considerable and the news of her discovery will, no doubt, have travelled throughout the parish quickly.

Imagine the news spreading around Deerness from house to house in a place where many people were close family to one another and a community of neighbours and friends. There would have been amazement, a need to hear about how she had been brought in, and, much more importantly, what might be salvageable from her. Was there a cargo? What was it? In what condition? What about the outfitting of the ship? What about the crew's possessions? What was re-usable? Sails, ropes? Endless possibilities. And last, but not least, what had happened to her luckless crew?

Imagine too all the discussion by the men of the parish on what to do next. Inspection of the hold showed she carried iron and thousands of planks of wood (deals). Whilst the deals were manna from heaven to Deerness, the iron was a problem, to know how to process it and disappear it into the community, as was the ship herself. The decision must therefore have been made, probably reluctantly, to let the Crown's representative in Orkney, Pat Hagart, know of the Jonge Louisa's rescue and also Thomas Balfour, representative of one of the main landowners in Deerness.

The news of the ship's arrival appears to have taken some time to reach Pat Hagart. Note the Jonge Louisa's arrival on the 16th January and that Pat Hagart's letter is not written until the 12th February. In his letter to Amsterdam, Hagart advises that he found the ship to be load with Deals [and] iron, but strip'd of every thing that could be carried away. Just how bare was she when she arrived?

D5-29-3 Extract of letter written by Pat Hagart to Messrs Jean Texier in Feb 1785
Hagart does not give a date for his visit to Deerness but he had to go over her with a very fine tooth comb indeed to find any clue as to her ownership. He found a paper wrote in the Dutch language but very much spoilt with salt water and that gave him enough information to conclude he should write to Messrs Texier.

D5-29-3 Extract of letter written by Pat Hagart to Messrs Jean Texier in Feb 1785
Given that he did not put quill to paper until mid-February, and that there was good money to be made from the salvage of the ship and a cut in the disposal of a valuable cargo, it is reasonable to think that Hagart did not delay in writing to Messrs Texier once he knew who owned her. So any other delay in the matter was either on the part of the landowner Dr Thomas Balfour or the Deerness men. Given too that Balfour might turn her arrival on his shores to his advantage, the conclusion that Deerness men, fully aware of the claims landowner and Crown might pursue, held back on the news of her arrival, and took best advantage of what cargo no-one could argue to have been on board her when she was taken to shore. Only Deerness men could say what was still removable at that point...

Or a Danish Captain who had reported to Messrs Texier that he had seen and clearly boarded the Jonge Louisa off the Norwegian coast near the island of Hitra (previously Hitteroe) after 9th December 1784. (see below)

Pat Hagart's letter would have left Orkney by ship in trusted hands and been passed along a pathway of further trusted hands until it finally arrived in Amsterdam. Messrs Texier received Pat's letter and responded on 18th March 1785. This letter produced a response from Pat on 9th April, a speedy turnaround for the time. 

Messrs Texier were able to give a detailed account of events leading up to the arrival of the Jonge Louisa off Orkney. The ship, under the command of Captain Nathaniel Pronk, had headed from Holland, north through the Skagerrak and then south through the Cattegat, into the Baltic Sea, and to St Petersburg where she was loaded with iron, and thence to Wybourg (now Vyborg on the Russian side of the Russian/Finnish border) where a large cargo of wood was loaded. The iron belonged to Messrs Texier and the wood to Messrs Mauritz, Dreyer and Bendix with whom Pat Hagart would liaise regarding the eventual sale of the wood.
D5-29-3 Extract of letter written by Messrs Jean Texier, Amsterdam to Pat Hagart in March 1785
The Jonge Louisa turned south again, heading back to Amsterdam, came successfully back through the Baltic Sea, the Cattegat and the Skagerrak, but on or about the 9th December, being on the Coast of Jutland, the sea being very high with a great Storm, the boats having got loose and fallen upon the Hatches, tore them to pieces and the ship got soon full of water. In such condition having nothing to live upon, the Captain and Crew took to the boat and were taken up at Sea by an English Captain who carried them to Dieppe and thence back to Amsterdam to report the abandonment of the ship. 

Basic representation of the last journey of the Jonge Louisa.
Orange is the route she should have taken back to Amsterdam;
Purple shows roughly where she was blown off course to after the crew abandoned her.
Messrs Texier had some suspicion that the vessel had been left too soon by the Crew and made enquiries in Norway, being advised by a Danish Captain, that she had been seen not far from Hiether Wie (now Hitra). The Danish Captain reported his removal of the ship's cable and the greater part of the kitchen furniture. There were no further reports of her being seen until 31 days after the storm, when she appeared off Deerness, having come across the North Sea in one piece, pushed across by the east winds. 
D5/29/3 Extract from letter written by Messrs Jean Texier re Danish Captain, 7th June 1785
Once the Crown, via the Earldom, and the Balfours were involved, the Deerness inhabitants lost control of the ship and cargo but local men were employed later in 1785 to unload the vessel and transfer her cargo to Kirkwall for sale. The ship and cargo were kept under watch until dispersal, with that watch organised by Thomas Balfour's main man in Deerness, George Louttit, schoolmaster. Is his report tongue in cheek when he describes a gale on 20 October 1785, in which some of the deals were damaged? Louttit lived in Deerness and one of his sisters was married to James Petrie at Stonehall. Might his loyalties have been divided between his employer and his family's best interests?

The men who finally unloaded the Jonge Louisa were Gilbert Wick, Thomas Miller, Robert Stove, Magnus Dick, John Laughton, John Sutherland, Hugh Peace, William Work, a second Hugh Peace and William Sinclair. Is Robert Stove a young Sergeant? (See our previous blog post here). He is probably not the same Robert Stove of Sandside who helped bring the ship under control, for that group of the original seven men were in hot dispute with Pat Hagart over salvage monies. It was the opinion, when the men ultimately went to law in the autumn of 1785, of David Balfour lawyer in Edinburgh and brother of landowner Thomas Balfour, that they had no claim on the cargo of the ship, but they did have a salvage claim for the ship itself and in the end they received £70 between them for their efforts, equivalent to approximately £6000 today. Presumably it was further sub-divided with the 33 men who helped in the initial rescue of the ship.

D2/52/12 - Extract showing the result of the court case where £70 was awarded to
Deerness men for salving the ship, 16th Jan 1786
A shipwreck was a valuable event and everyone involved in processing that wreck could make money and benefit from her arrival. In the case of the Jonge Louisa, the bounty was great, and there was none of the extra effort of feeding, clothing and generally looking after her crew. The Earldom dealt with her salvage and the ultimate sale of her cargo, and the ship itself, being paid for work done by the ship's and cargo's owners. Having the opportunity to purchase and sell the cargo, the Balfours received salvage monies, bought parts of the cargo and no doubt made money from that. Others, for example: Kenneth Sutherland of Campston bought deals from the cargo; George Louttit was paid for his endeavours in Deerness; the boatmen who rescued her were paid; their lawyer was paid; the men who unloaded the ship were paid. Who knows what other bounty also furnished the houses and farms and boats of Deerness following the arrival of the Jonge Louisa.

D2/52/2  Extract showing the final salvage amount made from the wreck.
Sources used: 

Balfour papers: D2/23/3; D2/52/2; D2/52/9
Graemeshall papers: D5/29/3
History of Orkney by W P L Thomson
Google Maps

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Churchill Barriers 75 Years

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the opening of 
the Churchill Barriers.
They were officially opened by First Lord of the Admiralty 
Albert Victor Alexander on the 12th May 1945.  

The Churchill Barriers are a series of causeways built to block the eastern approaches to Orkney's large natural harbour, Scapa Flow, which was being used as a base for the British Fleet in World War II.  In October 1939 German submarine U47 found a way through the existing blockships in one of these approaches, named Kirk Sound, and torpedoed HMS Royal Oak at anchor in Scapa Flow. The battleship sank with the loss of over 800 lives. In response, the First Lord of the Admiralty Mr Winston Churchill instigated the design and building of the barriers and personally visited the site on the 9th March 1940. They are now road links to the islands of South Ronaldsay, Burray, Glimps Holm, Lamb Holm and the Mainland of Orkney. 
Barriers looking south-west from Kirk Sound 

Though built as Barriers during a war, they have always brought people together. 


Construction: The design and construction of the barriers brought together the great civil engineers of the time. Experiments were carried out at Whitworth Engineering Laboratories at Manchester University, led by Professor A H Gibson. "The Scheme was designed and supervised by the Civil Engineer-in-Chief of the Admiralty, Sir Arthur Whitaker, K.C.B.. M.Eng., M.I.C.E. and was carried out under the direction of Mr H. B. Hurst, M.I.C.E., until succeeded by Mr C. K. Johnston-Burt, B.Sc., M.I.C.E., Dr Herbert Chatley, M.I.C.E. and J. A. Seath, B.Sc, M.I.C.E. 
Mr E. K. Adamson, M.I.C.E., was Resident Superintending Civil Engineer from April 1940 until March 1942, when he was succeeded by Mr G. G. Nicol, D.S.O., M.I.C.E., who was in charge until completion... Mr S.C.Doughty, A.M.I.C.E., who was Assistant Resident Engineer from the end of 1941 until completion." 
The firm of Balfour Beatty & Co. were contracted to build the barriers. "Mr A.M. McTaggart, Director of Civil Engineering Works, Mr Alexander Ross, M.I.C.E., and Mr A. B. Sharp, jun., M.I.C.E., who was agent in charge from May 1942." written by J. A. Seath, B.Sc., M.I.C.E in 1946

"The force of the currents which prevail even in the unobstructed portions of the Sounds are too great for the adoption of methods involving divers work and the nature of the bottom precludes work being done from piled structures. Further the contours of the sea bed and the small range of tide in the Orkneys renders impracticable the use of prefabricated structures floated and sunk into position. There remains, therefore, as the only permanent and practical method capable of ready adoption, the construction of tipped stone or concrete block embankments
written by Arthur Whitaker, Civil Engineer-in-Chief, 12th March 1940

The three designs adopted, figure (a) in 1940, very little of the filling had been placed when labour and material difficulties made it essential to seek a more economical section, but by that time it had been decided to adopt the "bolster" as a method of placing rock fill, see figure (b) . The causeways were more or less built to this design, except that the embankment was heightened, narrowed, and provided with a roadway at 10 feet above High Water of Spring Tides, see figure (c).
"Time and the urgency of the work did not permit of the fabrication of cableways specially designed for the work and recourse had of necessity to be made to existing equipment. Four electrically-driven cableways which had been in use on the construction of the Kut barrages across the Tigris in Iraq were obtained and a steam-driven cableway was procured from a bridge construction work at Dornie in Scotland." written by James A Seath, B.Sc., M.I.C.E. in 1946.

Cableway across Kirk Sound, August 1943.
Orcadian Memories: "They started to put them up in 1942 from then on they used to sling stuff between the two uprights on the various islands and dump it in the sea." Bill Hewison, Orkney Sound Archive

Orcadian Memories: "As you go past Burray you'll see huge stone structures there. These were the foundation posts for the stone crushers. There were huge mixing units for concrete. There was a lot of machinery there to make and build up the blocks." Sandy Wylie, Orkney Sound Archive. 

Orcadian Memories: There were 10 ton blocks and 5 ton blocks and these were stocked very high up like pyramids for the causeway when the rubble had been planted.
Sandy Wylie, Orkney Sound Archive. 

Orcadian Memories: "Gradually they spread out and gradually the work began to take shape. Number 3 was a steam cableway, it came up to us complete and all we had to do was erect it. The other 3 cableways were electric and had to be adapted before they could be erected so No. 3 got away to a jolly good start and that causeway began to appear above the water. You could go across it when I left in '42. You couldn't cross No. 1 or No.2 and 4 hadn't started." 
Henry Ridelaugh, Orkney Sound Archive
Weddel Sound Causeway - well advanced 1943
View of Kirk Sound Causeway with temporary works traffic road at right and water supply main to Lamb Holm in centre. Note the rock filled bolster nets. October 1943.

Labour: As there was no spare labour force on Orkney, Balfour Beatty had to bring workers up from south and find accommodation for them. The first 230 men arrived on 12th May 1940 on board the liner Almanzora along with machinery and other supplies. The ship was then used as accommodation for six months until camps could be built in the islands. Many of these men did not like working in Orkney in the harsh weather conditions and were transferred back south. By the end of 1941 the project needed many more men if it was to be completed quickly. Thanks to the progress of the war in North Africa, there was soon a large number of Italian prisoners of war available. 

At first there was a problem. The Italians felt that this was war work. According to the Geneva Convention of 1929 relating to POWs, they should not be compelled to contribute to it. It was finally ruled that because the causeways would be of service to the community after the war, it was not war work.

 Roads Executive Committee, Item 11
Rock Works: There was submitted letter (1106) from the Deputy District Commissioner asking that the County Council should consider making representations in connection with the Admiralty Scheme at Rock Works to the effect that the barrage should have a sufficiently wide top or a sufficiently well finished top above water so that it would be possible to construct a road from the Mainland to South Ronaldshay." 
Orkney County Council Minutes 14th July 1942.

Italian POWs: "On February 23rd 1942 we were allocated to Orkney Islands and sailed from Aberdeen to reach that destination. Five hundred POWs were assigned to Camp 60 on Lamb Holm, five hundred and fifty three to Camp 34 on Burray. Immediately after our arrival, the workers teams were set up starting to work, alternatively during the day at Causeways Transport Road Construction as part of original Project about the linking of four small islands as military defence of 'Scapa Flow Bay' against Enemies Submarine actions.
"The statue of St George was built first. It shows the patron saint of soldiers ready to kill the dragon. It is a concrete representation of the desire to eliminate all evil, all wars that cause pain and injustice to so many people. It is the symbol of a will to "kill" all misunderstandings among people of different culture.
"After a short transient period characterised by few incomprehensions a real cooperation among the British Staff led by Colonel Buckland, the Balfour Beatty Building Company Technical Representatives and Sergeant Major G Fornasier and Sergeant Bertone (respectively Commandants of 60 and 34 Camps) started and lasted for the remaining period of permanence of POWs on the Islands. 

"The POWs carried on their jobs seriously and productively even if the job itself and living conditions were not so easy. Many subjects fell ill with psychological problems, some due to homesickness and difficulty to get used to the different weather conditions, some due to both conditions. To make their recovery easier the other POWs got conscious of a deeper spiritual involvement for them, this is the true reason of the Italian Chapel building standing on Lamb Holm Island.

The artwork in the Chapel was designed and painted by Domenico Chiocchetti
"When the POWS left in September 1944, the major part of the work was completed, only asphalting and guard rails were missing on the constructed roads." 
Quotes from Bruno Volpi, Secretary of the Ex POWs Association in 1995. 

Orcadian Memories: "I had rings and things that were made by the POWs. There was one ring that was made out of half of a crown. And there was another made out of a piece of brass, and there was ML on it, that's my initials. And another thing that is history, one day in 1942, I got a bit o cardboard stuck under me door. And i wondered what it was. And I picked it up, and do you know what was written on it? 'I love the little blond, one million of kiss. Thank you of the smiles'. It was from one of the Italians.
Mima Louttit was head cook in the Mess Tent at St Mary's Camp

The card, left at Mima's door, which she kept all her life.

Roads Executive Committee, Item 22
Road at Graemeshall"Mr P N S Graeme intimated that the present method whereby material is tipped into hoppers on the roadway between St Mary's and Graemeshall was dangerous to the public using the road and it was agreed that the Surveyor should be instructed to make sure that the notice boards at either end of the road advising the public that they should use the road at their own risk are in proper order, and that a further advertisement in this connection should be placed in the local press.Orkney County Council Minutes, 9th August 1942.

Orcadian Memories:"The Italians were very temperamental, very romantic they missed their womenfolk terribly. They were home loving chaps with bairns at home and we used to hear about them and through the Red Cross they got packages, they were very happy when they heard from home. I've often seen them make spaghetti, they'd get some flour meal rolled it out, cut it up in strips and dried it out in the sun or near the fire and they made coffee. They were allowed coffee ad lib but we were not allowed any coffee during wartime it was in short supply, but it was the Italians main drink.   
On one occasion they wanted to start an orchestra and they couldn't get any instruments to buy, so they appealed to me could I get something, so I had 2 violins at that time, so I sold them one just to make them happy." Sandy Annal, Orkney Sound Archive 

Roads Executive Committee, Item 5 
Barrier Roads: "The Chairman intimated to the Committee that the Agreement between the Council and the Admiralty with regard to the future maintenance of the barrier roads had been completed." 
Orkney County Council, 8th May 1945 

The Opening Ceremony took place on the 12th May 1945
One of the completed barrier roadways

After officially opening the Barriers, Mr Alexander was given a commemorative brochure to keep.

First impressions
County Home Outing reported in Orkney Herald, 7th August 1945

Roads Executive Committee, 27th June 1947, Item 1 Barrier Roads: 
"The Surveyor reported that the Superintending Civil Engineer, after consulting with the Admiralty, had decided that works of a major nature would be required immediately on No. 1 Barrier between St Mary's and Lamb Holm while works on the other barrier roads would also be required. 
These works would make it necessary to close No. 1 Barrier for a period of three months, but it was hoped that arrangements might be made to allow foot passengers to cross the barrier at their own risk outwith working hours." 
Orkney County Council Minutes

Roads Executive Committee, Item 10 Barrier Roads: 
"With further reference to the closure of the barrier roads for major repairs, the County Surveyor reported that it had now been arranged that there should be a weekly sailing from Scapa to St Margaret's Hope for the purpose of conveyance of goods and stock. In addition the proprietor of the bus service operating the route had made arrangements to carry on his service as usual and had made provisions for a motor boat to convey passengers between St Mary's and Lamb Holm."
Orkney County Council Minutes, 1st July 1947

The roads continued to be closed during the summers of 1948 and 1949 while major repairs were carried out to each of the barriers. 
Causeway Opening Times from Orkney Herald, May 1949.

Lectures: In the 1950s Mr G Gordon Nicol embarked on a Lecture Tour talking about the building of the Barriers. He was Superintending Civil Engineer on the project for the Admiralty from March 1942 until completion. It is his photographs (with accompanying notes) which are shown in this blog. 

New Connections: In the Fifeshire Advertiser, 4th August 1956 the Reverend Mr Johnston praised Orcadians at a Kirkcaldy Rotary Talk, "As a result of his industry the Orcadian has become a comparatively well-off person. As a result of the war the roads have been greatly improved and the various smaller islands have been given access to the main island by the Churchill Barriers which have been built after a German submarine managed to enter Scapa Flow and sink one of our ships. These barriers have made a tremendous difference to the people living in the smaller islands. Previously, in order to to Kirkwall to transact business, they had to make the journey by boat and this took a whole day. Now they can travel to Kirkwall by bus in about an hour so that they could go to the pictures or a dance and home again with ease. This has brought them into contact with the life and social activity of the main island."

Officially named by the Ordnance Survey, 4th June 1957 as the Churchill Barriers

Orkney County Council Minutes

Preserving the Chapel: A few years after the war, realising that the Italian Chapel was a real work of art, an Orkney Committee was formed by the Sutherland Graeme family to carry out some restoration work and, through a programme on the BBC Italian Service, it was possible to establish contact with some of the Italians who had taken part in the building of the church.  In the 1960s, some of these Italians returned to complete and repair work on the Chapel, including Domenico Chiocchetti. He and his wife, Maria, were given a civic reception in 1964 by Kirkwall Town Council. 
The altar in the Italian Chapel

Connection with Caithness?: A new ferry service was proposed from Burwick to Caithness in 1969. 

Aberdeen Press & Journal 28 February 1969


However the proposal was turned down by the Orkney County Council  eventually in 1972 as the councillors favoured the further development of the Stromness-Scrabster link.

More repairs
A brief note in the Aberdeen Press & Journal, 27th February 1977


Remembrance: "The 50th Anniversary of The Chapel (3rd- 6th June 1992) was recently marked by an historic pilgrimage of eight ex-prisoners and their families, a group of 18 people who journeyed from Italy to visit the site. Domenico Chiochetti, now 83, was unable to travel but was represented by his daughter Letizia.
The purpose of their presence was to build...the now famous Churchill Barrier. Anyone who has driven from Kirkwall to St Margaret's Hope cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer scale of the engineering feat.. It is an historic drive of breathtakingly scenic yet macabre proportions
Quoted from article by Terri Colpi, in Rivista, the Journal of the British-Italian Society, published in August 1992

Remembrance: The 50th Anniversary of the Barriers was held in Holm Parish Church on the 12th May 1995.  The people came together to celebrate Causeways Linking Communities led by the Reverend Joan H Craig, who also wrote a poem for the occasion. Bruno Volpi contributed to the Order of Service saying "Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Causeways opening. While we voice our happiness for the participation in the Ceremony, we wish to proclaim ourselves to be very proud of our contribution to Orkney's increasing economy. Many years have passed since then. Political and social conditions evolved in both our countries. We hope that the evidence of our cooperation carried on during those difficult years should become an example to be followed by next generations."


Photo of Barrier taken in 2014

Recognition and the Future: "Two of the four of the Churchill Barriers have been listed by Historic Environment Scotland for the first time. They will be listed at Category A - the highest status for listing. This means that they are recognised as being of national or international importance. Only around 8% of Scotland's 47,000 listed sites are recognised at this category. 
Following a period of consultation and assessment by HES barriers No. 3 and No. 4 are now listed. Because of longstanding development proposals affecting primarily barriers No.1 and No. 2, HES did not consider it appropriate to list these two structures. 
James Stockan, chair of Orkney Island Council's Development and Infrastructure Committee, said, "The Churchill Barriers are as important today as when they were first built, providing lifeline links between three of our inhabited islands.
They are recognised worldwide as unique monuments that serve as a powerful reminder of Orkney's wartime past. Barriers No.1 and No.2 are, of course, equally important. It is welcome that we have time to explore interest among developers in the two barriers forming part of a tidal energy generation project, along with ways to address wave over topping during severe winter weather."
 The Orcadian newspaper 25th November 2016.

Sources used:
CO3/1/10-13; CO3/1/24 Orkney County Council Minute Books;   
D1/167/1 Report on the closing of the Eastern Sounds of Scapa Flow by F.A. Whitaker [ADM1/10643]; 
D52 The Gordon Nicol Papers; 
D1/349/2 Italian Chapel papers; 
OSA/RO7/248 & 249 Transcription of Radio Orkney Programme Famous Orkney Landmarks featuring Bill Hewison, Sandy Annal, Sandy Wylie and Henry Ridelaugh. 
Acc2269 The papers of Mima Louttit. 
Bolsters, Blocks, Barriers by Alastair and Anne Cormack, 1992 (Orkney Room Ref:627 Y)
Causeways Closing Scapa Flow, two papers presented to the Institute of Civil Engineers by Jack Allen and J A Seath in 1946. (Orkney Room ref: 627 Y)
Orkney Herald newspaper
The Orcadian newspaper
Aberdeen Press & Journal newspaper

Monday, 6 April 2020

Iron Box of Jewels #4

Our last post has inspired our group and other researchers to try different sources and find more information about James Keith and the jewels. 

We now have two leads for the origin of the jewels:
a) with James Keith from Benholm and Dunnottar Castles or 
b) a shipwreck in Shetland.
Option a) was our first lead and the family which were intricately connected with the Keiths during this time period were the Strachans. The Clan Strachan Society website has information on the story of the robbery from Benholm Castle 

I wrote to the Clan Historian, who replied with the following information:

I would refer you to an article in our newsletter, page 3. I wrote it from a Strachan perspective, but it has some information you may be interested in, much of it from the book "Bonnet Lairds" by Colin Thornton-Kemsley:

"early 1623, while the Earl Marischal, then aged 70, was away from his castle of Dunnottar, his Countess, her son James and Sir Alexander Strachan - in secret and cover of darkness - carried the whole furnishings and valuables from Benholm Castle and Dunnottar to Thornton, where the Countess went to live with the Laird while the Earl Marischal was still alive"
Thornton Castle, near Laurencekirk
Regarding your blog, it was not just James Keith and his mother, but Alexander Strachan of Thornton (his mom's lover) who all took belongings and valuables from Dunnottar and Benholm back to Thornton, where they all lived while the Earl Marischal was still alive. This tells you about the relationship (or lack thereof) James Keith had with his father. The three of them took up residence at Thornton thereafter. Also

After some legal banter back and forth, a settlement was agreed upon by the parties. The Countess Marischal, now married to Strachan, had to yield up the heirlooms but she was permitted to retain her share of the jewellery and a large proportion of the plenishings. The lands and barony of Benholm were conveyed by James Keith to his stepfather Sir Alexander Strachan who then surrendered them to the new Earl Marischal.

It appears James was born about 1600, and Alexander Strachan of Thornton was born 1587. It is my opinion that Alexander and Margaret were both dead before 1648, when the Thornton Estate was taken possession by a remote relative, James Strachan of Inchtuthill (Alexander Strachan had no children). I would suggest a high probability the case of jewels were his mothers (Margaret Ogilvy, the ex-countess Marischal), and were likely given to him by his step-father Sir Alexander Strachan of Thornton, Bart. when she died. I would also suggest a moderate to high probability that James Keith was residing at Thornton, with his mother and step-father between 1624 to no later than 1647-1648. Alexander Strachan of Thornton, who despite the scandal, maintained a high political profile/office with the Crown and was frequently absent from Thornton. It seems reasonable to think James Keith remained at Thornton to manage the Estate for his mother and step-father."

One question remains to me that if the jewels rightfully belonged to James Keith, then why were they to be conveyed to the Earl of Morton when possible? 

Option b) might explain this. Our last post (Iron Box of Jewels #3) was shared on the Institute for Northern Studies Facebook page and we received this suggestion from Colin Dicke:

"On the 2nd March 1653 the VOC [Dutch East India Company] flute Lastdrager went aground on the Island of Yell in Shetland. The ship had previously been damaged in a storm as it attempted to navigate the English Channel on the way to Batavia (present day Jakarta).

It was rumoured that the ship was so heavily laden with contraband that the Captain would not allow the cargo to be unloaded for proper repairs to be undertaken on the island of Texel. So when it set sail again, it was already in poor condition when it was hit by a second storm, and quickly broke up on the rocks.  One survivor was an 18 year old boy who later gave a detailed account of the events that followed. After finding refuge in a blacksmiths workshop, the boy (Johannes) and the other 22 survivors managed to rescue a few chests of silver and brandy. Johannes troubles were only beginning, however, as the men drank the brandy and squabbled over the silver, with some attempting to kill the others to make away with their share. Johannes however managed to convince a smaller group to attempt to get back to Holland, and together they managed to recruit the assistance of the local laird, Ninian Neven. With the aid of Neven, the remaining crew managed to fend off other attacks from the breakaway group. And, using some of the retrieved silver they purchased a ship suitable to take them back to Holland. The remaining treasure was buried nearby.

The Lastdrager may have looked like this
On the 29th March (Johannes gives the date as 8th April), James Keith of Benholm arrived in Yell with a band of 60 soldiers in search for the shipwrecked treasure. According to Johannes, Keith was unsuccessful in stealing any of the silver, but in the skirmish that ensued Nevens daughter was attacked, then shot. She died soon afterwards. Eventually Johannes and the others made his way back to Holland and in the following year to his destination of Batavia. On the 11th January 1684 he was appointed Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies. In the 1970s the site of the shipwreck was dived by the underwater archaeologist Robert Stenuit, who recovered many items including early examples of golf clubs and clay pipes. No more silver or valuables have been publicly recovered.

This may be irrelevant to your quest, but it could well be possible that Keith was able to recover some of the contraband treasure. Some of which may be referred to in the documents you cite."

So, if Keith was able to recover some of the treasure and as he still factor for the Earldom Estate at the time would he have acted on behalf of the Earl of Morton? Would that be why the jewels should be passed on to the Earl when he came out of exile? The Palaeography Group are currently transcribing a document from 1653 which mentions James Keith, Shetland and silver. Hopefully it will shed some more light on this particular story. 

One of our regular followers helped us to discover a word in the original document which we were puzzling over. The word looked like pikworth at first and we thought it might be a measure of gold, as the phrase looked like "a pikeworth case of gold".
Extract from Morton Earldom Papers GD150/2531/4
Our follower GenKnit (and her daughter) soon discovered that we were wrong and that the word was in fact "piketooth" which today would be "toothpick" and therefore the phrase would be a "a piketooth case of gold". Here is what one might have looked like, taken from this website.

Thank you to all who have helped so far. We will continue to research this mystery and report any findings we make. If you have any ideas for information, please comment below or contact Orkney Library & Archive through our Facebook or Twitter pages.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Snapshot on Orphir

A recent addition to our collection is this little booklet all about the parish of Orphir. It was made to accompany a photographic exhibition in June 1992 in Orphir Church, but actually stands on its own with its interesting facts and figures. Topics covered are: Churches; Transport from Horse to Aeroplane; Picnics and Parties; Schools and continuing Education; People; Events; Buildings and Shops; Horses and Ploughing; Island of Cava; Orphir at Work; Orphir at Play; Orphir at War; and Organisations.

Drawing "The Round Church from North East in 1889" Showing remains of old houses of the Bu on the North, now demolished. From a sketch by C. S. S. Johnston

Click on each picture to enlarge the image.