Saturday 28 January 2012

A safe haven

Stromness pier, c.1900, photographed by R.H. Robertson

With the news of the proposed development of the site of Coplands Dock, adjacent to Stromness, we've been looking at the history of pier development in the town .

The bay at Stromness has long been recognised as a safe natural harbour for shipping. The Rev. William Clouston wrote, in 1794, that “although it is small, this is one of the safest harbours to be found along the north coast of Scotland”. The harbour had the necessary depth of water to accommodate large vessels, but lacked an adequate deep water pier, essential for the economic growth of the town.

The minutes of the Stromness Harbour Commissioners (S17/1) give a detailed account of the processes involved in the construction of the pier. In May 1877 the trustees were considering three possible sites. They examined the possibility of extending an existing structure, described as the “warehouse pier”, but after further consideration decided to purchase a parcel of land from the Commercial Bank, whose office was situated in what is now Stromness Town House. After some negotiation, which included a stipulation that the trustees opened an account with the bank, a parcel of land was duly purchased, including 101 feet (30.78 metres) of the waterfront. The pier was to be built at the southern end of the site. The specification issued by the trustees was for a stone built pier, breadth 30 feet (9 metres), stretching straight out from the shore, with a wooden “head” which would stretch to the north, but this was soon changed to make the head stretch south.

The Orkney Herald of 14 November 1877 carried a report that “there is every possibility of the construction of the new pier going ahead”. This was, stated the newspaper, despite the objections of a small number of locals, “objections the triviality of which could only match their selfishness”! In February of 1878 advertisements for a contractor appeared in a number of newspapers, with James Drever from Shapinsay eventually being chosen to build the stone section. Later on, the firm of A & K MacDonald accepted the contract to construct the wooden head section.

The construction work, from the time of the awarding of the contract, took approximately fifteen months to complete, and at a meeting of the trustees, held on 2 June 1879, they were informed that the pier was now “fit for the reception of vessels”. The trustees had already appointed a new harbour master, Mr. Terras, to oversee the new venture. He was to be paid £20 per annum, plus 5% of all rates collected at the pier over the amount of £200.

The pier was extended in 1900, and the photograph shows the steamer St. Ola leaving the pier after that time. Since then it has been further extended and improved on a number of occasions over the years, including the addition of an ice plant and a further extension in the 1990s.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Weird Punishment of the Week

As I was reading through a folder from the Ernest Marwick Collection, I stumbled on this weird form of punishment in North Faray.

It's certainly one of the strangest punishments I've read about, but I'll be on the look out now for more. If you've got any to share I'd love to hear about them.

Archive Reference: D31/2/4 no. 69
For information on the window tax try this

Monday 9 January 2012

Rock the boat

On this day in 1909 Ernest Shackleton, leading the Nimrod Expedition to the South Pole, planted the British flag 97 nautical miles from the South Pole, the furthest South anyone had ever reached at that time.

It was on a later Shackleton expedition to Antarctica, in 1921, that Orcadian Norman Erland Mooney was appointed as cabin boy on board the Quest. Norman was one of two boy scouts chosen from over 1000 to accompany the expedition, the other boy coming from Aberdeen. Unfortunately the ship did not have an easy voyage, encountering heavy gales as they left England which continued throughout the first leg of the journey through the Bay of Biscay to Lisbon. Suffering severely from seasickness the initial word was that 16 year old Mooney would leave the ship there and return home but the plucky (some might say completely crazy!) youngster stayed on board for the next leg to Madeira. But the seas got worse and on reaching Madeira the doctor decided that enough was enough and sent Norman home. Shackleton himself sent Norman's parents a telegram declaring "regret necessary action solely in boys interest, he was always willing".

D49/1/3 - Telegram from Sir Ernest Shackleton to Mr. and Mrs. John Mooney, Kirkwall

This wasn't the end of Norman Mooney's adventurous ways. In 1929 he passed the Colonial Survey examination and received an appointment in Nigeria as a mining surveyor.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Orkney is shrouded in such heavy clouds that it could almost be night and there's another gale on the way, and I was awake far earlier this morning than seemed natural. But never mind, it's a new year so lets all gird our loins and look forward to the coming year. Happy new year to you all.

This time we're looking back a hundred years to 1912. This photograph shows a team of bankers from that year, found in collection D30 - Papers of Mary Robertson Sinclair.

I imagine this team would have been highly successful as any balls put in their net by their opponents would have taken three to five days to appear on the scoreboard.