Friday 26 July 2013

John Rae at Home

Yoo-hoo! We have a new exhibition!

Don't you ever tire of hearing about all the thrilling Canadian Arctic adventuring that John Rae did, all the tediously competent, heroic journeys, facility with the Inuit people and culture and his eventual discovery of what really happened to Franklin and his men, blah, blah, blah?

Us too. You won't find any of that rubbish here, it's all about Rae's childhood, life in Britain, relationship with his neighbours and information on his parents.

We've put together the display to lead up to the John Rae 200 conference at the end of September in Stromness. Click on the link for more details about the conference.

Our display shows a little bit of John Rae's life in Orkney and Canada through his personal letters and some articles written about him.

We're very lucky to have a few letters written by John Rae to David Balfour in our Balfour Papers, archive collection reference D2. In 1852 John Rae had returned from his third arctic expedition and was staying with his mother in The Haven in Stromness. One example written on 11th Aug 1852 from his home in Stromness says, "I fear that you may think that I take a great liberty in requesting you to allow me a few days shooting on your moors above Clestrain, being desirous to take a look over ground on which I had poached sometimes when a boy."

On returning from Hudsons Bay to Stromness in 1854, after discovering the fate of the Franklin Expedition, he wrote to Mr Barrow regarding the reward of £10,000 and said, "Although every one with whom I converse on the subject, or rather who gives me then his opinion......seems to think that I am entitled to the award, yet I am not very sanguin of success and will not be very much disappointed if I do not get it. It is however a matter of so much importance to a poor man like myself and I trust My Lords of the Admiralty will decide either one way or other very soon as my future arrangement for life depend much upon their decision."

Retired and living in Berstane House in Kirkwall in 1866, John Rae wrote to his friend David Balfour inviting him to dinner, "I expect a wild turkey and some other game from Canada by the steamer which may or may not arrive and may or may not be eatable when it does". Strangely Mr Balfour does agree to have dinner with him...

By 30th Jan 1882, John Rae is living in London, but he still keeps up with goings on in Orkney as he writes, "I see by the papers that there has been great doings at your ancient borough [Kirkwall] in receiving Royalty" The royalty being Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh who toured Scotland in 1881.

In 1893 John Rae died in London and his body was returned to home Orkney to be buried in St Magnus Cathedral.   

We have transcribed all the letters mentioned above and a few more, so if you live in Orkney or are just visiting do pop in to see the complete exhibition. [This exhibition is now over but the original letters mentioned can be seen in the Orkney Archive on request]

Archive References: D2/2/4; D1/262/1; D29/8/7; D2/51/4

Friday 19 July 2013

Let's Get Trollied On Lollies...

After so many months of hideous weather, it feels somewhat wrong to complain about the heat this week. Wrong. And yet also so right.... UUUURRRGGGHHH, it's stuffy!

There was a stash of ice-lollies in the freezer but some wily library staff got there first and ATE THEM ALL.

No matter, we'll just look at these cool, snowy pictures of Canada taken by Orcadians working for the Hudson's Bay Company to cool down instead:

J. W. Sinclair, lunch hour at Kingnait, Baffinland.

J.W. Sinclair, Baffin island or Herschel island.

Royal Canadian mounted policedogs, Aklavik, Invuit Region, North Western Territories. Taken by Canadian working in Canada.

Also, it has been a while since we all had a friday afternoon boogy. Pop down your pens and enjoy the archives unofficial theme tune for the Summer. We like to sing

 'We're in this job to get dusty, we're in this job to get dusty,
We're in this job to get dusty, we're in this job to get dusty'

Until the customers scream at us to shut up.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

A Biscuit That Can Get You Drunk. FINALLY...

You know how it's really annoying that you can't pour wine down your throat whilst simultaneously cramming your face with biscuits? Problem over readers, problem solved:

Wine biscuits. Perfect for surreptitious staff-room drunkenness and for drowning your sorrows whilst wearing your over-sized mourning clothes.

Advert taken from 1940 edition of Peace's Orkney Almanac.

Friday 12 July 2013

That's Just Dandy, Andy!

We have come a long way to show you this, dear readers.Ups and downs. Hell, and indeed, high water.

 First, there was the utter devastation we experienced when Andy Murray lost Wimbledon despite Kim wearing a lovely dress and his mum wearing her smart tartan coat. That was awful.

Then there was the sleepy joy of watching him win the US Open at about 1am. That was good.

We were pleased about that readers, don't get us wrong; it was wonderful. It's just that we wanted to watch him win whilst awake and whilst eating our tea. With the sun shining outside.

As you all know, that happened last Sunday. Sandwiches were munched, Pimms were quaffed and small toddlers were given whole Magnums to eat just so that they would sit still and BE QUIET during the nail-biting third set. We would have posted sooner but a series of teeth-grinding I.T. tribulations have prevented us until now. This is being typed whilst hunched over a laptop.

Readers there is a very fancy looking olde-style document which pleases us greatly. It is the proud bearer of many seals. We LOVE seals. We promised ourselves that when Andy finally won Wimbo, we would post a picture of it in celebration. BEHOLD:

That's it. The best we've got.
Isn't it fab?
(Why not pop over for another look at Lionel though? That's always worth doing when one is feeling jubilant)
Orkney Archive Reference D38/1692 (a)

Friday 5 July 2013

Call The Midwife! (The Orcadian Edition)

Well this is an interesting book. Jannet Mowat of Victoria Street Kirkwall kept a midwifery account book from 1830-1855.

She started as a nurse and so the first few entries are for 'giving ingections' and 'attending you as a sick nurse', but soon the entries list the boys, 'lasses' and 'girrels' that she has delivered across Orkney. (Kirkwall, Evie, Sanday, North Ronaldsay and PapaWestray are all mentioned.)

Sometimes the baby's name is listed and sometimes they are listed as still born or 'to be a still child.' Prices seemed to vary from customer to customer with most paying about 5 shillings for Jannet's services but the rate rises to £2 or even £3 for some customers.

Does anyone have an idea of why this would be? (It's not inflation as it happens throughout the whole book and it doesn't look like some were paying in installments.)

P.S. She wrote her married name more than once on the back page of the notebook like girls do with boys they fancy at school!

P.P.S. We NEVER did this.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Would You Like to Go To Eynhallow?

Photo: Charles Tait Photographic, The Orkney Guide Book, Third Edition.

Who wouldn't? Eynhallow (from the Old Norse oyin helga, holy isle) is thought to be the site of Orkney's earliest monastic settlement and boasts the remains of a 12th century church.

Other names for Eynhallow include 'The Enchanted Isle' and 'The Disappearing Isle' as it was allegedly not always visible to human eyes and was the summer residence of mermaids and finfolk. Apparently, the only way to be sure to reach the island is for the pilot of the boat to never take his eyes from land and to be gripping iron at all times.

More Eynhallow folklore can be found here.

The uninhabited island is inaccessible for most of the year due to strong tides from both sides but the wonderful Orkney Heritage Society, put on a trip each year in July.

This year's trip should, weather permitting, take place on Monday 22nd July. Tickets are £20 for adults and £10 for under 12s and available from the Archive department (we are on the first floor of Orkney Library.) We accept cash or cheques and require the names of all ticket holders and a contact telephone number in the event of cancellation.


The boat shall depart from Tingwall at 7.15pm and shall leave Eynhallow at 10.15pm.

Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult and no dogs are permitted.

Information taken from:
The Orkney Guide Book, Third Edition by Charles Tait.
Eynhallow by John Mooney

Tuesday 2 July 2013

"A POX UPON YOU!!....."

...Is the curse we have been using of late after finding this amusing letter addressed to Alexander Watt, merchant in 1768.

In it, Robert Sandison expresses amazement that a young woman of their acquaintance is to marry a 'Parched, sapless soldier' saying 'a pox upon you young cow hearted fellows to let so many pretty charmers slip into the arms of old, worn out powder.'

He then bemoans his hangover: ''must now draw to a conclusion my Caput (head) being in great disorder after a Debauch last night...some of us Youngsters had a private dance with some ladies of our acquaintance & after seeing them home we had a severe frolick...' What does THAT mean I wonder?

Orkney Archive Reference D1/437/1