Saturday, 10 March 2018

A Suffrage Search

A letter in the Kirkwall Town Council Minutes from 1914 sent me on an interesting search through the archives.

Extract from ref: K1/1/17
It reads: "Orcadian Women's Suffrage Society Daisybank, Kirkwall, 13th January, 1914. To the Provost, Magistrates and Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Kirkwall, Sirs, As Secretary of the Society, I have been deputed to approach you and ask if any of your body would go to London and act as representatives of the Royal Burgh at the big demonstration being held by the National Union of Women's S.S. at the Albert Hall on February 14 and form part of the proposed deputation to Mr Asquith* at the same time.
From enclosed circular you will see that Glasgow is sending as its representatives the Lord Provost and Chief Magistrate of the City and from enclosed cutting you will observe Hawick is sending as representatives two Bailies. Cheap fares are to be arranged, and hospitality given, and in cases where expense is the only obstacle a little help may be given. I am, Sirs, Yours respectfully (s[I]g[ne]d) Bina W. Cursiter, Hon. Sec."
The circular and the cutting referred to were also produced.

After reading this letter, I instantly wanted to know all about the Orkney Women's Suffrage Society and in particular Bina Cursiter. In the Orkney Archive Catalogue I found two references to women's Suffrage and some photographs. A mention of "suffrage" in a letter to J.W. Cursiter and a Fereday Prize local history project called, "Was there an Orcadian Suffragette Movement?" By Maya Tams-Gray. Maya's project covers the subject really well and is worth a look, if you visit the Archive. It gave me a newspaper reference to an article written by Emile Flett in 1993 for the 75th Anniversary of women winning the right to vote. The opening paragraphs of Emile's article gives a good overview of the Society and its connection to the Cursiter family.

"The Orkney Women's Suffrage Society was formed on September 25, 1909. A meeting was held in the house of a Mr James Cursiter, Kirkwall where 'all the ladies present joined the association'. The following month a constitution was formally adopted and office bearers were elected.
The president of the new organisation was Mrs Baikie of Tankerness and Mrs McEwan of Kirkwall was elected vice-president. The secretary was Mrs Bina Cursiter who offered to 'supply information and pamphlets on the subject'. Also present were a Miss Cromarty of West End House in St Margaret's Hope. Annual subscription was set at one shilling."

The photographs are part of the Robertson collection and are wonderful to see but unfortunately do not give any names of the people in them. Here is one classic picture of a little girl in a street in Stromness:

Ref: RHR4866

At the end of Emile's article, he acknowledges the help of archivist Alison Fraser of the Orkney Archive "whose help in providing sources was invaluable in writing this article." Which means, there must be more information than I originally found. After further digging in the archive, I found a reference list of 82 newspaper articles from The Orkney Herald and The Orcadian from 1871-1913. The articles report the national information as well as the local news. This list was possibly created by a customer or member of staff who painstakingly trawled through all the newspapers on microfilm and found relevant articles. Thank you to whoever this was!

This list led me to an article in the Orkney Herald from 24th April 1912 when Dr Elsie Inglis, Hon. Secretary of the Scottish Federation of Women's Suffrage Societies visited Orkney to address the local Society. The event took place in the Temperance Hall, Kirkwall and..

"The platform was tastefully decorated with flags, most prominent among which was the banner of the Orcadian Society, the work of Mr Stanley Cursiter."

Many men attended the meetings. Provost Slater chaired this one and "on the platform were a number of ladies and gentlemen who are leading local supporters of the movement"

At the meeting Dr Inglis said, "Women were just as proud of the country as men, and why should they be deprived of the right of taking part in the legislation of the country? She appealed to all to join the Orcadian Women's Suffrage Society - a society which had most enthusiastic officers."

Here they are campaigning in Stromness:

Ref: RHR5171
In the Orkney Herald of 22nd June 1910, Miss Lamond from Edinburgh addressed local residents in St Marys: "The weather being fine the meeting was held at the pierhead, so that many of the men and women engaged in the herring industry were enabled to be present."

Emile's article explains the two organisations, "The WSPU (Women's Social and Political Union) motto was 'Deeds not Words' and they felt that only direct action would achieve results. The NUWSS (National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies) favoured education through pamphlets and meetings, etc. to change public opinion. The Orcadian Society adopted the tactics of peaceful and moral persuasion in line with the NUWSS."

As for the Cursiter family. Bina Cursiter was married to J. W. Cursiter (full name James Walls Cursiter). James is listed in the book Who was Who in Orkney by W.S. Hewison, "Banker, businessman, antiquarian, archaeologist; son of John Cursiter who after a sojourn in Edinburgh returned to his native Orkney to set up his own wholesale and general merchant business in partnership with his 3 brothers; uncle of Stanley Cursiter RSA."

As Bina became secretary to the Society in 1909, I looked her up in the Orkney Census of 1911. The couple were living at Daisybank in Kirkwall. By this time James is aged 59 and Bina is aged 56. They have been married for 18 years and have one child. This census entry also says they were both born in Edinburgh. The child is not living with them at this time.

I cannot find any pictures of James or Bina in the Orkney Archive. So here is another one of the campaigners in Stromness:

Ref: RHR5172
Using the information from the 1911 census, I searched the online family history site Scotlands People for information outwith Orkney. Bina Cursiter was christened Jacobina Watt on the 15th November 1854 in St Andrews Parish in Edinburgh. Her parents were Philip Butler Watt and Elizabeth Paterson. She was born on 15th October. She married J W Cursiter on 29th June 1892 in Glasgow at the age of 37. She was living with her family in Dowanhill, Glasgow at the time. Her father was a Commission Agent. James and Bina were together in the 1901 census in Kirkwall with their daughter Lizzie who was born in Kirkwall and was aged 7. In the 1911 census, Lizzie was 17 and at school in Brooklyn, Clackmannanshire.

The last piece of personal information I have found about Bina Cursiter was in a letter dated 1925 from James Shand, Broughty Ferry to her husband.

Ref: D8/4/2/5
"My wife hopes to meet Mrs Cursiter some day and discuss the Suffrage question for women."

And do you want to know the result of the letter sent to the Kirkwall Town Council? Would they attend the demonstration in London? Well, no...

Extract from ref: K1/1/17
Despite all the enthusiasm at local meetings, "It was unanimously agreed to take no action in the matter."

There is so much more information to learn about the movement and Orkney's local society. I hope you have enjoyed my brief search and findings.

References used: K1/1/17 Kirkwall Town Council Minute Book, 1912-1920; D70/20/26 Fereday Prize by Maya Tams-Gray, 2016; article by Emile Flett, The Orcadian newspaper 18th November 1993, page 16; article in the Orkney Herald newspaper, 24th April 1912 p6; two articles in the Orkney Herald, 22nd June 1910, page 8; book Who was Who in Orkney by W.S. Hewison, 1998; D8/4/2/5 - Letter to J W Cursiter, 1925; and three photos from the Robertson collection - RHR4866, 5171, 5172.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Pharaohs and Chambers and Cairns, Oh My!

View from inside Maeshowe, 1900. Orkney Archive Reference D32/2/2 - Magnus Spence Collection.

On this day in 1923, Howard Carter unsealed the tomb of Egyptian boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun.

In 1861, James Farrer opened Maeshowe, an Orcadian Neolithic burial chamber dating around 1400 years earlier than the Egyptian tomb. Unlike the fully intact and treasure-stuffed cavern which greeted Carter, Maeshowe was empty but for a few fragments of human bone.

It did however, contain Viking graffiti dating from the 12th century and, every winter solstice, visitors huddle in the tomb to watch the winter sunlight slice along the tunnel and paint a strip of light up the back wall.

For more information see here and here.

Pencil drawing of Maeshowe interior after excavation. Artist and date unknown. Orkney Archive Reference D8/3/11.

Dusty says that I should post this image from the Walter Grant Archaeological Collection too. It is of the Midhowe Chambered Cairn on Rousay, thought to date from 3500BC - even older than Maeshowe.
Midhowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney Archive Reference D138/8 - Walter Grant Archaeological Collection.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Of Moons and Mould.

On this day in 1966, the Soviet Union sent space probe Luna 9 to the moon which sent back photographs confirming that the surface of the moon was firm, not dusty and that in fact the rocky terrain resembled chocolate-hued volcanic rock. How thrilling...

We have previously despaired over the Orcadian newspaper's determined disinterest in man's first forays into outer space and a brief check of the papers which followed this momentous day for science confirmed this stance.

There was a moon-themed article (see below). 'Ah-ha', I thought, 'this must be it.' But no. It was instead an amateur photography article about taking photos in the moonlight. The author exhorts his readers to photograph their family while they sleep. 'There's no need for the sleeper to know you've even been...'

Orcadian 7th February 1966

We are extremely thorough in the Orkney Archive and so I checked the next week's paper just in case their staff had been so completely overwhelmed by Luna 9's voyage they found themselves unable to write about it for over a week. Nothing. They did find time to include this piece about some slime on a fence post though.

Orcadian 17th February 1966

Thursday, 25 January 2018

"They Have as Much Idea of a Rhinoceros as a Poet..."

We've written about Robert Burns a couple of times before but we have not yet shared this letter. It is a copy letter (before carbon copies, people often copied out letters by hand) and was found, loose, in a book of health reports several years ago.

It is from Robert, writing from his farm at Ellisland, to John Beugo the artist who made the above engraving from the famous portrait by Alexander Naysmith.

In it, he confesses of being bored by Dumfrieshire society; 'I am here at the very elbow of existence' and complains that his neighbours 'have as much idea of a rhinoceros as of a poet.'

He asks Buego to keep in touch and to send him proofs any portraits the artist completes.

Orkney Archive reference D1/15/6 - Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Dusty is our resident Rabbie expert because he is her boyfriend but she got all huffy after reading that he was back with his 'darling Jean' and is currently sulking in her office with a bottle of gin.

A transcription follows:

To Mr.John Beugo,

Ellisland, near Dumfries Sept. 9- 1788.

My Dear Sir,

There is not in Edinburgh. above the number of the graces
whose letters would have given so much pleasure as yours of the 3rd
inst., which only reached me yesternight.

I am here on my farm, busy with my harvest; but for all that most
pleasurable part of life called Social Communication I am here at the
very elbow of existence. The only things that are to be found in this
country, in any degree of perfection, are Stupidity and Canting. Prose
they only know in Graces, Prayers, etc., and the value of these they
estimate, as they do their plaiding webs, by the ell; as for the muses,
they have as much an idea of a Rhinoceros as of a Poet. For my old,
capricious, but good-natured hussy of a muse,

  By banks of Nith I sat and wept
   When Coila I thought on,
  In midst thereof I hung my harp
   The willow trees upon.

I am generally about half my time in Ayrshire with my "darling Jean,"
and then I, at lucid intervals, throw my horny fist across my
becobwebbed lyre, much in the same manner as an old wife throws her hand
across the spokes of her spinning-wheel.

I will send you the Fortunate Shepherdess as soon as I return to
Ayrshire, for there I keep it with other precious treasure. I shall send
it by a careful hand, as I would not for anything it should be mislaid
or lost. I do not wish to serve you from any benevolence, or other grave
Christian virtue; 'tis purely a selfish gratification of my own feelings
whenever I think of you.

You do not tell me if you are going to be married. Depend upon it, if you do not make some damned foolish choice, it will be a very great improvement in the Dish of Life. I can speak from Experience; tho' God knows my choice was as random as Blind-man's buff. I like the idea of an honest country Rake of my acquaintance who like myself married lately - speaking to me of his late steps "L--d man" says he "a body's baithe cheaper and better sairt!"

If your better functions would give you leisure to write me, I should be
extremely happy; that is to say, if you neither keep nor look for a
regular correspondence. I hate the idea of being obliged to write a
letter. I sometimes write a friend twice a week; at other times once
a quarter.

I am exceedingly pleased with your fancy in making the author you
mention place a map of Iceland, instead of his portrait, before his
works; 'twas a glorious idea.

Could you conveniently do me one thing?--whenever you finish any head, I
should like to have a proof copy of it. I might tell you a long story
about your fine genius; but, as what everybody knows cannot have escaped
you, I shall not say one syllable about it.

If you see Mr Nasmith, remember me to him most respectfully as he both loves and deserves respect; tho if he would pay less respect to the meer carcasse of greatness, I should think him much nearer perfection:

My best direction for four or five months to come, is "at Mauchline"

I am truly my Dear Sir, yours to command

Robt. Burns

Saturday, 20 January 2018

My name is archiver and I am a tea drunkard...

This may not be the weirdest old advert ever and it may not be the most depressing or bewildering but it is certainly up there with the funniest. (Although this one still makes us laugh after many years...)

If you or a friend know of anyone who was driven to murder by too many eggs, do let us know.

Taken from an Orkney Herald dated 21st September 1898.

Friday, 22 December 2017

Advent Quiz Number 4.

It is the last Archive Christmas Quiz dear readers and it is a fairly easy one.

We received some archives yesterday in a recycled box. What was this box originally?

There is no prize as we close at 3pm today and are already too drunk to find the box of Orkney Library & Archive merchandise. Play for our eternal esteem only.

The Orkney Library & Archive shall not open again until Saturday the 6th of January at 9.15am.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Joyful and Peaceful New Year.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

75 minutes until sunset...

Above is the view from the archive window today as it is the winter solstice and that means a day of approximately 12 seconds in this Northern hinterland. THE SUN SHALL SET AT 3.15pm TODAY!!!

Of course, our microscopic winter days are eventually replaced by epic Summer nights and today is actually lovely and clear but we do like to complain.

Poem by Margaret Tait. Orkney Archive Reference D97/45/3/4

Friday, 15 December 2017

Practical Folklore #1

A charm to boil the kettle faster taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick collection. You're welcome...

Taken from the Ernest Walker Marwick papers reference D31/2/5

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Advent Quiz Number 3.

We seem to be celebrating advent with random archive quizzes this year, hurrah! So, following on from our mysterious objects and our archive conundrum, please welcome the weird bike picture quiz:

Why did this bike look like this? We'll give a prize for the first, most plausible reason and a better one for the most ridiculous idea.

Picture taken from the Hourston collection. To find out more about the photographer, please click here.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Anagram Victor

Many thanks for all of the delightfully weird anagrams you sent. Some of you cleverly used the letters in 'heart' or 'love' in your word play but we very strictly discounted those as we wished to change our banner to the winning re-shufflement which was:

Was Vic Here

A giant Orkney & Library paperclip and pen shall be claimed by Andrew Marriot (@wet_kipper)
 on twitter who made us hoot with his four anagrams and reminded us of an 80s hit by Department S (See below...look at his hair! What a great coat!) Send us your details Andrew!

Honourable mention must be made to our fellow archivist at Balliol, @balliolarchives, who also sent us four anagrams with accompanying explanations.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Chiving Home For Christmas...

Oh readers, we try to be festive and it makes us look like fools! What is the first thing you read when you see our snazzy, Christmas lights display below?:

Intelligent and handsome readers will, of course, read 'WE ♥ ARCHIVES' unlike the many visitors, family history society treasurers and MEMBERS OF STAFF who thought that we had taken the time to construct and hang a banner which declared 'WE ARE CHIVES' to the rest of the world.

Even making the heart bigger and redder made no difference. 'Why have you hung a banner saying that you are chives?' the people kept asking.

Honestly... why bother?

For some Friday Fun, online prestige and an Orkney Library and Archive giant paper-clip, do please send in any anagrams you can make from the banner.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Wind Beneath Our Wings... Again.

You can't live in Orkney and then complain about bad weather. (Except we do. Constantly.) On days like these it's better just to give in to it. It's not blowing a gale, It's just Orkney 'singing':

Click to enlarge
Poem taken from a 1948 edition of The Orcadian. (16th December 1948).

Friday, 1 December 2017

Mystery Object Revelation...

last night we asked you: What are these?

These little objects fell out of a letter whilst our tireless Balfour Blogger was working through a box of Balfour correspondence. We were all fairly puzzled until we discovered that they are... paint samples. Well done to JanCherryJovi on twitter who guessed this within 22 minutes.

These pieces of cardboard daubed with 'straw', 'stone' and 'dark pink' shades were sent through the post 230 years ago by David Balfour to his brother Thomas. The colours and mixing instructions can be found below:

Click to enlarge.

The letter was sent on the 30th July 1787 from Edinburgh to Orkney and closes with 'enclosed are patterns of the paints - with a note of the price':

This image is clearer if you click on it to enlarge

This entirely delightful archive is completed by a fabulous wax seal:

We heart seals.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Mystery Object Time #2

What are these?

The right answer will win you both our eternal esteem and any Celebrations we have left in the tin. (No promises made).

We shall reveal the answer tomorrow afternoon...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

J. Storer Clouston - Treasurer of Heart and Mind

This year, 2017, marks the 100th Anniversary of the publication of The Spy in Black by  J. Storer Clouston.

He did not just write this one book though, he wrote many novels in his lifetime and his style was on a par with Compton Mackenzie and P.G. Wodehouse. His plays were performed in London West End theatres and The Spy in Black was made into a film, starring Conrad Veidt.

Orkney historian, Dr Hugh Marwick described him thus:
He was primarily a teller of tales and a master of the art of narration

J. Storer Clouston

P.G. Wodehouse wrote: "I have always been a tremendous admirer of your work. I think I have everything you have ever written." 

Archive Reference: D23/37 part of letter from P G Wodehouse 6th Jan 1934

Background and birth:

Joseph Storer Clouston was born in Carlisle, Cumberland on 23rd May 1870. His father was Sir Thomas Clouston of Nisthouse, Harray, Orkney. Sir Thomas became a mental health specialist and was appointed Superintendent of Garlands, the Cumberland and Westmorland Asylum in 1863. His mother was Harriet Segur Storer who came from Connecticut in USA.

His sister Augusta Maud Clouston was born in 1872 also in Carlisle. She became Lady Wallace when she married Sir David Wallace, an Edinburgh surgeon, on 5th April 1905 in St. Giles, Edinburgh.

Early Life and Education

His father became Physician Superintendent of the Royal Edinburgh Asylum in Morningside in 1873 and moved the family to live in Tipperlinn House, Edinburgh when Storer was 3 years old.

His brother Thomas Harald Clouston was born in 1876. He later married Ada Mary Stuart and lived in a house called "Langskaill" in London and was proprietor of Gairsay.

Storer was educated at Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh and later at Magdalen College, Oxford.

Merchiston Castle School
In the 1891 census, aged 20, he was described as "student of medicine".

In 1895 he was called to the Bar and on his marriage certificate in 1903 his occupation was "Barrister at Law", although he never practised and became a writer instead.

Marriage and Home

On the 11th March 1903 at the age of 32, Storer married Winifred Bertha Clouston, aged 21, in St Andrews and St Leonards parish church in Fife. Winifred was a distant cousin whose family also originated in Orkney. Her grandfather was the Rev. Charles Clouston minister of Sandwick and Stromness and also known as a physician, botanist and meteorologist.

From 1903, Storer is recorded in the valuation rolls as the tenant of Smoogro House in Orphir. The estate was owned by his father.

The Clouston Family on the steps of Smoogro House
Adults L-R: Harriet Storer, Winifred Clouston, J. Storer Clouston, Sir Thomas Clouston
Children L-R: Harold Thomas Storer Clouston, Marjorie Traill Clouston
Archive reference: L1340/1

In 1913, Sir Thomas Clouston transferred the ownership of the house and the estate to his son.

Sasine Abridgement 1913
 The family spent their time in Edinburgh and London and their summers in Orkney.
The Clouston Family at Smoogro House, Orphir
Adults L-R: Winifred Clouston, J. Storer Clouston
Their children L-R: Erlend Richard Storer, Marjorie Traill and Harald Thomas Storer.
The dog's name was Hunda.
Archive reference: L6697/4

Joseph Storer Clouston grew up with a love of writing and history. He wrote many novels full of social commentary and light-hearted fun. Here is a small selection of his novels:

One of his first novels combined fiction with his knowledge of Norse history. It was reviewed by The Spectator in 1897:

"Mr Clouston gives in the story an abundance of the fighting, and a fair amount even of the drinking, that are generally associated with Viking stories. But he also introduces the rather uncommon elements of a feud and a spell, a hermit, a seer, and a mysterious maiden."

Here are a small selection of J. Storer Clouston's novels. We have about 38 volumes in the Orkney Room.

Published in 1920

Published in 1927

Published in 1932

Published in 1936
Storer wrote a series of novels about a 'Lunatic'. Here are some reviews for The Lunatic in Charge, published in 1926.

"Here is Mr Clouston with another riotous study in irresponsible lunacy." Sunday Express

"Furious farce, but a capital book for the sea-side at eighty-five in the shade." Observer

"It is very pleasant to have Mr Mandell-Essington at large again. He is still the charming companion that everyone seems to find him, and his adventures flit from one extravagance to another in quite the old way. " Daily Telegraph
The Spy in Black
This year marks the centenary of the first publication of The Spy in Black.
1918 edition
Title page of 1917 edition
Republished in 2007 with added extras
Made into a film in 1939 starring Conrad Veidt, who gives his opinion of the book here:
“It is with pleasure I write this message to say that I sincerely hope readers will enjoy J. Storer Clouston’s story “The Spy in Black” as much as I enjoyed working in the film which has been based on the book. Sincerely [sgd] Conrad Veidt” Archive reference: D23/30/6/5
Some reviews of the book here:
Field 12th Jan 1918

Glasgow Herald

Morning Post Review 14th Dec 1917


J. Storer Clouston wrote plays which were performed in London West End theatre, such as The Pocket Miss Hercules at the New Royalty Theatre:

Archive reference: D23/30/6/4

The Gilded Pill Handbill

Octo-Centenary Pageant

J. Storer Clouston co-wrote the pageant script with Eric Linklater which was performed by about 600 actors as part of the St. Magnus Cathedral Octo-centenary celebrations in 1937.
Octo-centenary pageant performed in Kirkwall in 1937
Archive Reference: L5285/4

Octo-centenary pageant performed by Orcadians in 1937
Archive Reference: L5286/4


J. Storer Clouston also wrote and edited Orkney history books and contributed articles to journals. He was founder member of the Orkney Antiquarian Society and collected old Orkney documents some of which are in Records of the Earldom of Orkney 1299-1614.
Orkney History books which J. Storer Clouston wrote or contributed to.
The Storer Clouston Archive Collection fills 39 boxes and is stored here in one of our strongrooms under reference D23.

Death and Remembrance

J. Storer Clouston died on Friday 23rd June 1944. He was buried in Orphir Churchyard on Monday 26th June.

In the Orcadian the following week, Dr. Hugh Marwick published an "Appreciation" for his friend.
Dr. Hugh Marwick. Archive reference: L2308/1
Here are a few quotes:

"he had identified himself so intimately with Orkney public life and affairs, and his name is so indissolubly associated with the written history of these islands that it is difficult for us to think of Orkney without...thinking of him."

"A more acute, penetrating and imaginative intelligence on work in which he was interested, it has never been my privilege to meet."

"to me, at least, his death seems not unlike the blowing out of a lamp, leaving me sitting in a dark room."