Saturday 16 May 2015

Bad, Bad Boy

Orkney, like everywhere else I'm sure, has it's share of bad guys and this week, while cataloguing the Halcro Johnston collection (D15), I came across some interesting letters that provide more evidence about one of our baddest guys, General Sir Frederick William Traill Burroughs, described as 'the worst of the 19th century lairds in Orkney'.

The General didn't start out too badly. He was educated in Switzerland before being commissioned into the Sutherland Highlanders, fighting in the Crimean War, the Indian Mutiny and the North West frontier. He was even recommended for the Victoria Cross for his part in the relief of Lucknow but wasn't awarded it.

General Burroughs and wife

His Orkney infamy began when he inherited the Estate of Rousay and Wyre from his 'uncle' George William Traill. He had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian in the Army and evidently carried that on into civilian life. During Traill's management of the estate his factor began to clear tenants off the land to make room for sheep and General Burroughs carried on this cruel practice after he inherited it. .

Resentment grew among the tenants and came to a head when the Napier Commission came to Orkney in 1883 as part of a public inquiry into the condition of crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands. Burroughs appeared before the Commissioners and explained what a benevolent laird he was and how he'd spent loads of money improving the estate. Unfortunately for him the evidence didn't back this up so, in an attempt to silence his critics, he announced that any tenants that spoke against him would be evicted. And that's what he did.

James Leonard was a tenant and gave evidence at the Napier Commission hearing in Kirkwall. For this he and his family were thrown out of their home.

So this brings us back around to the letters in the Halcro Johnston collection. The letters are a record of the activities of the Rousay and Egilsay School Board from March to September 1885. At the start of that time General Burroughs was Chair and James Johnston, factor of the Baikie Estate which included Egilsay, had just been elected as a member. Another member, receiving the highest number of votes, was James Leonard. This was never going to go well! No sooner had the Board got going the General was up to his old tricks of hurling threats around, this time aimed at the other members of the Board. Their "crime" had been to permit James Leonard use of the school building to deliver lectures on temperance, to which Burroughs objected because of "the terms in which Mr. Leonard referred to me before the Crofters Commission and since". He finished by threatening to apply for an interdict to make the board members liable for any expenses. In a letter written the next day by the local Free Church minister it was pointed out that the lectures would not and could not happen anyway because James Leonard, who was employed as a temperance lecturer, had left the island, writing "I cannot understand how they fail to be aware of it".

General Burroughs days as Chair of the School Board were numbered however. By June he had resigned in protest at the dismissal of the Clerk to the Board George Meikle McCrie. McCrie was also Inspector of the Poor and was considered by the crofters to have aided and abetted the General's policy of providing as little relief as possible to the poor.

If anyone would like to learn more about the saga of General Burroughs and the crofters of Rousay I'd recommend The little General and the Rousay crofters by William PL Thomson. You really could make a great Sunday night television drama out of the story. Poldark doesn't compare!


Here, as a balance to this story, is an extract from his Obituary from the Orkney Herald 12th April 1905, page 5, showing General Burroughs local interests one of which was being a founder member of the St Olaf's Episcopal Church in Kirkwall in 1874.

Friday 8 May 2015

VE Day Celebrations in Orkney and the UK

Notice from The Scotsman newspaper, dated 8th May 1945
(OA Ref: D23/30/7)

Photographs from The Scotsman newspaper, dated 9th May 1945 
(OA Ref: D23/30/7)

On the island of Eday:
 "The day was observed by many as a holiday. Flags were flown. On both afternoons, 8th & 9th, it poured incessantly with rain and, except where necessary, most people kept indoors. A service of thanksgiving was held in the Church of Scotland at 6pm on the evening of the 8th. Many people were kept from attending by the inclemency of the weather.
(The Orkney Herald newspaper, 15th May 1945)

In Kirkwall: 
"The VE Day thanksgiving service, in which the three Church of Scotland congregations in the town and the Congregational Church united, planned to be held in St Magnus Cathedral was changed at the last minute to the Paterson Church owing to the breakdown of the cathedral organ. Upwards of a thousand people attended the service
(The Orkney Herald newspaper, 15th May 1945)

Photograph of Edinburgh from The Scotsman newspaper, dated 9th May 1945 
(OA Ref: D23/30/7)
In Stromness:
"Stromness was a town of flags and down-pouring rain on the official VE Day, the eighth of May, and the combination was not at all harmonious. What promised to be a day of delirious joy and excitement went off like a damp squib. True, there was the excitement of the Prime Minister's radio speech in the afternoon, and the ringing of the church bells expressed the deep thankfulness in all our hearts. In the evening the heavy rain took off and allowed the people to go to the united service in the North Church, but even then a shroud of dampness hung over Stromness and there was no sunshine or fragment of blue sky to gladden this first day in the new era of peace. In spite of atrocious weather there were many celebrations in the evening. At most of the military camps, and in the Town Hall, dancing and merry-making went on all night, and NAAFI beer flowed in profusion. On the following day the weather was almost similar, except in the evening which was fine and sunny. The flags still flew and the beer still flowed and the rain continued to fall
(The Orkney Herald newspaper, 15th May 1945)

The last few days of the war from an unknown newspaper. (OA Ref: D23/30/7)

In Longhope: 
"On Tuesday of last week flags were flying all around the district, and at 3pm the vessels in the bay all began blowing their whistles and hoisting their bunting, which made a pretty sight. The flags were kept up all day on Wednesday, two days holiday being observed by all workpeople. A service was held on Tuesday evening in the Parish Church.
(The Orkney Herald newspaper, 15th May 1945)

Last All Clear 
"Mr Churchill's broadcast on VE Day was brief - disappointingly short for those who had waited for it. The finish of the Premier's broadcast was heralded by the sounding of ship's whistles at Kirkwall Harbour and the prolonged 'All Clear' shrilling of one of the privately operated Burgh air raid sirens
(The Orcadian newspaper, May 1945)

In Evie:
Victory in Europe was celebrated here with quiet enthusiasm. Following the announcement by the Prime Minister on Tuesday that the war in Europe was over the church bells were rung, and flags appeared everywhere. On Wednesday a thanksgiving service was held in the Central Church at noon: it was largely attended and most impressive. Dr Campbell occupied the pulpit and gave an excellent address.
(Orkney Herald newspaper, 15 May 1945)

Click on the label "Orkney at War" below to see more wartime blog posts.

Tuesday 5 May 2015

Orkney At War (May-July 1915)

Here are a few items from our fourth instalment of our Orkney At War exhibition. These archive items are taken from records during May, June and July of 1915. We continue with the diaries of James Marwick and Margaret Tait and find out about problems with meat inspection in Kirkwall, the water supply in Stromness, submarine attacks off Caithness, an escaped prisoner of war, enrolment of boys on trawlers, eggs for soldiers and see a few of the men of Orkney serving in and sadly dying in the war.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)
7 May 1915  Monday 3rd was feeing market day and although the day was very fine very few people were in town. The farmers are late in getting in their crop so that stopped the people from coming to town. On Monday morning a german submarine was supposed to be in Kirkwall Bay and 6 British Destroyers were racing up and down and out and in among the other ships in the Bay at full speed. The weather has taken a turn for the better and now it is quite warm and summer like. Had a walk up past the back of the hospital and saw my old home. The fields were looking fine and all covered with daisies and the sun was shining brightly. These last few days we’ve been very busy preparing our things for the sale today. We will just have 3 weeks in this house now. Everything is turned upside down even now.

Orcadians serving in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt. O.R.G.A (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118) Friday, 7-5-15  Very fine and warm. / Officer of day. Barton & Harris here. Marked store near Mess as a "bench" mark for levelling purposes. Denison & I put a rope around it. / Football match, Territorials v. Marines. The former won 2-0. On watch tonight I got word of the torpedoing of the S.S. "Lustitania" off Irish coast. She was struck by 2 torpedoes & sank in 20". There was a terrible loss of life among passengers. Bore stopped. It is now fully 25 feet down.

Orcadians serving in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall.(Archive Ref. D1/525)
8 May 1915  Last evening I went out to buy lard and met Rita Middleton. We both went up to the Temperance Hall to see how the sale was going. There I met Mrs. Middleton, squeezed into a seat beside her and remained there for the rest of the evening. I did not get my lard but enjoyed the sale immensely. When I got home at 9.30 everyone was out, the house in darkness and the fire out. The Lusitania was sunk yesterday, 19 hundred passengers on board, 500 of whom are supposed to have been saved. No particulars to hand yet except that she was torpedoed by a german submarine in the Atlantic. How dreadful to thing of so many innocent lives lost quite needlessly. I hope the Germans will get their just deserts. What a crowd of sailors and provision men are ashore today.

Orcadians serving in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt. O.R.G.A. (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118)

Saturday, 8-5-15  Fine - bought ½ cwt Sugar at 2½lb & and sent it home, also some dirty clothes, by Harvey the well borer who left today. He finished the bore head and built a few stones around it finishing it off with a big flat stone ready for the pump. / I got a decanter & glass from Nobby Clark. / Man lost off a trawler near Switha island. He was picked up but died later.

Orcadians killed in the war, kept in a scrapbook by Dr. Duncan, Stromness. (Archive Ref. D1/1127)

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt. O.R.G.A. (T)  (Archive Ref. D1/1118) Friday, 14-5-15 Snow showers. / Things are very dull and lifeless her which combined with a want of friendliness among officers make life very dreary. I wish I could get a shift from here. It is over 4 months since I came here. / Goliath sunk in Dardanelles.

Stromness Town Council, 19th May 1915   (Archive Ref. S1/5, page 152)
Water Supply. An application from the Admiralty to connect with the watermain at the Mineral Well for a pipe running to the vicinity of the Braehead.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)  Tuesday 25 May 1915 Weather raw and misty. Everything is turned upside down and the house is strewed with packing boxes. Mrs. Wallis has left for good. I wish we were across the street too. Italy has now declared war with Austria. Got a headache.
From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A. (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118) Wed. , 26-5-15 N. wind – dull and overcast. / was a walk round S. Head and picked Mayflowers also roots. Read a book called “Wrack” which is cleverly written but of questionable quality otherwise. / When round the Head I met a young marine with two hawk’s eggs (kestrel). H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth came in today.

Royal Naval Reserve Letter (Archive Ref. CE55/4/31, page 110) Enrolment of boys in the trawlers section

From the Diary of James Marwick, Lieut/Capt O.R.G.A. (T) (Archive Ref. D1/1118)  Tuesday, 1st June  Fine day. –was fishing off rocks and altogether caught 43 cuithes/ letters from home. M. coming on Saturday if weather suitable/ Sent home my bank book. Ian Barclay here and he took my letter down. I got a drenching down by a wave[This is the last entry we have for James Marwick's diary. He was posted overseas not long after this date.]
From the Orcadian 19th June 1915
Dear Sir - I am pleased to say that the appeal made to the good people of Orkney has met with a magnificent response. Mrs Brownlee, president of the ladies' Guild U.F. Church, Stronsay, indicates that three boxes, containing in all 300 dozen eggs, have been despatched and Mr William Muir, merchant, Sanday, Orkney has also been sent a box, collected from a few customers in his district. Mrs Irvine U.F. Manse, South Ronaldsay, has also done magnificent work in securing and forwarding eggs for the wounded here. Unfortunately our wounded are increasing while our supplies in the south have been falling off so that the very large donations that have come from northern isles keeps us in a fairly good supply. We cannot get too many eggs for the wounded and I hope the liberality of the Orcadians will still be made manifest by further contributions as they can conveniently spare the eggs. I take this opportunity of thanking all the contributors who co-operated in making the collections such a success. Thank you for your kind courtesy in allowing me the use of your columns, I am yours faithfully, John Dobbie, manager, No. 6 National depot, 24 Elbe Street, Leith
Kirkwall Town Council, 30th June 1915 (Archive Ref. K1/1/17) Request by the HM Navy for a stricter inspection of Naval Meat Contracts and for the meat to be stamped for easier identification.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall  (Archive Ref. D1/525)  5 July 1915 What a time we’ve had this last month. The masons are in every room but 2 bedrooms and these 2 are filled up with the furniture and things out of the other rooms that we only have room to stand up and dress or undress. Lime, plaster, stones and old wood are lying about and the whole place looks as if a cyclone had passed through. I’ve spent a lot of time down in the garden which is flooded with sunshine. The weather has been perfect up till a day or two ago, since when it’s rained all the time. Was at a social last Friday night in the St. Magnus Church Hall. The Queen Elizabeth (Dreadnought) has been lying at Scapa lately. Saw one of her officers in the shop on Saturday. The Archbishop of York has been visiting the Territorials at Flotta last week.

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)  11 July 1915  King George paid a visit to Stanger Head Battery on Friday and I understand has left again for the south. The Flotta people have been highly honoured. He didn’t come to Kirkwall. Such wet, murky weather we’ve had lately, with no signs of drying up.
Royal Naval Reserve Memo, 12th July 1915. ( Archive Ref. CE55/4/31, p116) Notice of an escaped Prisoner of War

From the Diary of Margaret Tait, sister to James Tait, cabinet maker, Kirkwall (Archive Ref. D1/525)  18 July 1915  (Sunday) Last Wednesday the shop was moved across from No.6 to this place which is not nearly ready nor will be for some time. However they have done a lot and improved it greatly. During these war times the motor cars etc. have all got patriotic flags stuck up in front, some have only the Union Jack, others have France, Russia and Belgium also. Saturday was French Flag Day, the school children were selling flags in the street for a penny each, the money collected being sent to help the French nation in their present crisis. Tartan seems to be all the vogue at present, in all the drapers windows you see little tartan bows or ties, vanity bags etc. of all the different clans. Thursday was St. Swithins Day and a lovely day throughout.
Stromness Town Council minute, 22nd July 1915 (Archive Ref. S1/5, page 159-160) Water Supply  An Application to use water for non-domestic use was refused by the local council on this day, while the present demand for water was made by the navy.

This is just a small selection of the items shown in our display for May, June, July 1915. Please do come in, if you can, to view the rest.