Monday, 9 July 2018

Drunk Bees

We were most amused to read this account of liquored-up bees:

Orkney Herald - 24th February 1897

 How on earth does a bumble-bee show 'remorse and disgust'? Texting last night's companions to apologise for their behaviour? Recycling their cans and bottles under cover of darkness? Commencing a juicing diet in order to detox?

Bombus lapidaries does none of these things. The lush.

Perhaps you are wondering when Humblebees became Bumblebees? Well wonder no more readers... wonder no more:

I do not know why drunk bees surprised us so. In Orkney of yore, even the babies were at it.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Old Orkney Photograph Phun

Dusty and I began our morning when our Very Orcadian Colleague invited us to inspect these fantastic photos. He often brings through examples of interest, mirth or mystery and these delighted us.

The first is a positive image printed on glass of a group of four.

Photographs of this vintage rarely include people smiling as the exposure times were too long for sitters to hold a smile for. Dusty and I thought the woman looked particularly grim and wondered if she was having a bad day. VOC informed us that they were 'probably all in clamps' to keep them still (photographers used posing rods and neck rests to help sitters to remain static) and wondered why we were not more intrigued by the fellow on the right who was feeling his fellow sitter's ear and holding what appeared to be a small pipe.

What's his deal?

The instruction not to smile clearly caused this wee lass some mirth and we were amazed by how modern this picture seemed. It could have been taken yesterday. VOC thought it was early twentieth century and guessed from THE WALL BEHIND HER that it was taken on the isle of Westray.

The Orkney Photographic Archive comprises of close to 70,000 images of people, places, transport, archaeological digs, sporting events, terrifying creatures, mystery (poo-like) objects and many, many more subjects and/or events. Most of these are available to peruse in the Archive Search Room on the first floor of Orkney Library.

We can photocopy and scan images we own the copyright of and VOC can makephotographic prints for you in his Tardis-like darkroom.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Happy Birthday For Tomorrow Glenn!

Oh Glenn Mederios, is anything, ever going to change our love for you? Certainly not the fact that you went to university after your chart success and became a teacher and the possible fact that your children are called Chord and Lyric pleases us greatly.

OBVIOUSLY we pretend to be the girl in this excellent video the most: (the balloon bit)

...but we also like to pretend that we are riding a horse on a beach with you and the following song is the Orkney Archive ode to our old, desperately needing a service, soon to be obsolete micro-film viewer-printer which only the archive staff may use.

Nothing will change our love for it.

 Not the wonky focus knob, not the way the lens constantly springs out of place, not the way it snatches the film from our hands and spews it out the other side, not the rubbish way it sucks in two sheets of paper at once and then prints half of a newspaper page on each one....NOTHING will alter our ardent love for it. This one's for you Canon Microfilm Scanner 800! Take it away Glenn...

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Billy Manson's Sea Chest

It is time for another post from our redoubtable Balfour Blogger. This one covers sea-faring,  packing for said faring and smelly, 18th Century pants. Avast and Huzzah!

Click To Enlarge

Orkney Archive reference D2/22/20

Billy Manson left Ackworth School, Yorkshire, in April 1791, aged 15 and came north to his father’s home in Kirkwall, Orkney. Ackworth was, still is, a Society of Friends, a Quaker, boarding school.

Billy’s father was Captain William Manson, sea captain, trader, ultimately Comptroller of Customs at Kirkwall and co-founder of the settlement of Friendsborough in Georgia, USA. His mother was Dinah Jackson from Whitby. She was William’s first wife, and she disappeared in Georgia sometime after February 1780 when she and William parted company, leaving Billy and his sister Elizabeth with their father, in Georgia. Billy had been born on-board his father’s ship, the Georgia Packet, in December 1775, as his parents, his sister and 100 settlers arrived in Savannah from a 14 week crossing of the Atlantic from Britain. Many adventures later, William returned to Orkney and remarried, in 1787. His second wife was Elizabeth Balfour, sister of John, Thomas and David Balfour, and in marrying her, William probably made the best bargain of his life, finding himself a fine wife and an active and lucrative role in the Balfour family’s burgeoning estates and business interests.

The Mansons, particularly Captain William, figure highly amongst Orkney Archives’ Balfour Papers. There are letters from the Captain, ledgers and financial documentation from his father’s business, from his own business, letters to and from all of Captain William’s siblings, his mother and much else.

And in amongst it all, in bundle D2/22/20, is a letter dated September 8th 1792, from Kirkwall, to an unknown person, written possibly by Billy’s stepmother, Elizabeth. It is a list of what is to go into a chest for W Manson and it becomes clear that this is a list of what a young man i.e. Billy, will need, going to sea for the first time.

Firstly, a list of clothing to be put into the chest, presumably from his current wardrobe, being:

8 white shirts and 6 check shirts

6 pair linen, 6 pair woollen and 1 pair cotton stockings

1 green great coat, 1 brown coat

3 waistcoats and 3 pairs breeches

3 pair shoes and 1 pair buckles

2 silk handkerchiefs and 2 cravats

3 pair worsted mittens, and

3 pocket handkerchiefs

I’m curious about the 12 shirts and how the white are to be successfully laundered, versus the check ones. White shirts suggest smart formality and their preponderance suggests an officer rather than a seaman. Also why 13 pair of stockings - and the specific need for 1 pair of cotton stockings? Why 2 coats of different colours? Were they also of different materials, for different climates? 2 silk handkerchiefs and 2 cravats – also of silk? For land-based or sea-based events?

The following page of the letter then states that further items are to be purchased for Billy at London (does this mean, once he gets there from Kirkwall?), which

‘may be had cheapest & most suitable  at a slop shop in Wapping’

A slop shop in Wapping? A shop where ready-made clothing was sold, and in Wapping because it was hard on the River Thames and part of London’s docklands. Young Billy’s uncle Thomas was settled in London and it is probable Billy was with his uncle and his family, pending his departure.

The list of what’s to be bought at the slop ship is headed by more clothing:

2 outside duffle jackets, lined in the body and sleeves with blue flannel and [costing]about 10 to 12 shillings each, with horn buttons - duffle in the 18th Century is about the type of fabric, a heavy-duty woollen flannel, rather than the design of the garment. Horn buttons would have been harder-wearing than wooden.

2 pair canvas long trousers about 2 shillings and sixpence to 3 shillings  – canvas would be immensely hard-wearing, and note the fact that they must be long trousers, not knee-length, or any other short trousers.

1 pair blue baize trousers, at 5 shillings – baize being coarse, woollen cloth.

3 pair woollen drawers at 2 shillings to 2 shillings and sixpence i.e. undergarments worn next to the skin. Billy has 12 shirts but only 3 pairs of drawers. It’s an imbalance not to be dwelt on, perhaps.

2 under waistcoats with sleeves, unlined with horn buttons at 5 to 6 shillings – think about the environment Billy is setting out into. The letter is written in September so we can surmise an autumn or early winter departure, from London, out onto a cold, cold Atlantic ocean where layers of warm clothing will be vital.

The list then moves onto miscellaneous items:

I hammock bed of flock, 2 blankets and a rug  – not only did a hammock take up least space in the confined world of 18th century ships, but it was a safe place for a sailor to sleep. The hammock moved in rhythm with the ship and held in the sailor, much preferable to being flung about in a bunk.

1 pair block tin buckles with brass chapes and tongues- as 2 buckles are required, it seems probable they are for footwear. Block tin is solid tin, as opposed to tinplate, therefore sturdy, as is the brass from which the chapes and tongues are to be made. And what of the chapes and tongues? Chapes are the plates by which the buckle is attached to the shoe and the tongue is the pin of the buckle.

2 sailors’ frocks of canvas to wear over all – the frock worn by a sailor was a heavy duty, waist length tunic, presumably as protection from weather and dirt. No Gore-Tex for Billy and his companions!

1 French Grammar and Dictionary to be got second hand, and any other small books he may chuse – is this the first clue as to where Billy is heading? His father and Uncle Thomas both had connections to the Caribbean sugar trade, and France had its share of the islands of the Caribbean, which Billy might visit if he too joined that trade. Or - the French Revolution of 1789 was the reason for war across Europe by 1792. Britain was neutral until 1793, but the storm was brewing and perhaps understanding French might be useful for a naval man – prizes to be captured on the high seas, perhaps?

And finally, one navigation book of Hamilton Moor’s that has all the tables used in keeping a ship’s way at sea etc – John Hamilton Moor was Edinburgh born and his The New Practical Navigator and Daily Assistant was published in 1772. Again, an indication that Billy is officer material, to be trained to command and take charge, as his father had done.

The letter’s author believes it is needless to buy a quadrant for him for the 1st voyage, nor sea charts.  But notes that if Billy meets up with John Paterson (who was John Paterson?), he should take Paterson’s advice on what it is necessary to have for this first trip.

Finally, the writer states

N.B. His things must be very easy for him as sea clothes are very apt to shrink and get past use in a little time- presumably easy is used in the sense of comfortable and roomy.

There is very little known about young Billy’s sea-going career. He had been born at sea, he had crossed the Atlantic before he was 10 years old, returning from America to Britain, his father was a sea-going man and his London and Orkney families lived by trade which was dependent on the sea: all in all, no surprise then that he goes to sea, aged 16. It may be that more information lies un-catalogued in the Manson letters in the Balfour papers - we don’t know the ships he sailed on; whether he was Royal Navy or Merchant Navy, but probably the latter given his father’s and uncle’s connections.

What we do know, from a sad, torn and tattered little list of family deaths, written up perhaps by his step-mother, is that Billy died in June 1795, of yellow fever in Antigua. He was 20 years old.  

Yellow fever is a nasty, tropical virus spread by infected mosquitos. Inoculation helps nowadays and immunity also builds but Billy didn’t benefit from either in 1795. Antigua is one of the West Indies, and was an important British naval base from the 1660s onwards. Was he nursed at the naval hospital at English Harbour, or were its beds reserved for Royal Navy men? Did he die, as he was born, on board ship? And does he have a burial place in Antigua?

A short life, filled with adventure and separation – the loss of his mother, his time at Ackworth, and then away to sea, far from father, step-mother, sister and all the rest. Did he mind? A life lived from sea-chests ………


And a post-script: in April 2018 an Orkney family visited Antigua, made contact with the local Archive There was no immediate trace of Billy there, but they will keep looking – he was one of hundreds, if not thousands of seamen who died in the Caribbean – and so the candle lit for Billy by uncovering the inventory of his sea-chest, will keep burning and we’ll also keep looking for more information in the Balfour papers

Friday, 8 June 2018

We Only Do It Because We Care...

We have blogged before about our passive - aggressive relationships with certain TV shows. Sometimes one nit picks because one loves a person so very much and it pains us that they are not reaching their potential.

We wrote a snippy complaint about Autumnwatch calling Orkney 'The Orkneys' because we are pedantic but also because we love BBC's 'The Watches' so very much. It is the only thing that has ever annoyed us about that wonderful show.

We were unreasonably delighted by the first series of Bake Off, and we almost lost our minds when Who Do You Think You Are called (another show we had previously chastised), but we ADORE Spring/Autumn/WinterWatch. Thus, there was another very hysterical afternoon after we were contacted by one of the show's producers to provide copies of audio tapes of Orkney naturalist and expert on Hen Harriers, Eddie Balfour.

The relevant program aired on Wednesday but can still be watched on iplayer here:

For more information on Eddie, see this obituary which appeared in a 1974 copy of The Orcadian:


Friday, 1 June 2018

Cheesey Does It

It is, as I am sure you are all aware, World Milk Day today. Up here, the supermarkets stock delicious local milks, creams and cheeses and the staff here are eager to support our local dairy and farmers. Why, only today, we forced down several tubs of local ice-cream in various flavours. 'Twas our citizenly duty and a tribute to World Milk Day...and it was hot... and ice-cream is quite nice...

Cheeses drying in Flotta, 1945

A woman using a plout kirn, Birsay.

Butter making class with Miss Boyd, Burray

Woman. making butter, Birsay
Cheese and butter making class at Grimness school, South Ronaldsay.

A plethora of cheeses

Friday, 25 May 2018


We are crying again in the archive. This happens a lot... probably the dust or something...

But today, it is because of GDPR, otherwise known as General Data Protection Regulation which comes into force today. You may all be aware of this new legislation as we have all received numerous emails from companies keen to hold on to our data and put up with irritating pop up windows every time we want to check on handsome movie men.

Basically, the idea is that we have to specifically consent before someone takes and keeps our data and they can only keep it for as long as they need it. This is obviously a good thing. Orkney Archive will securely keep your data for only one year after you get in touch with us for an enquiry.

But oh, readers! We are an ARCHIVE which means we hate to throw anything out. One man's rubbishy pile of old papers is our delightful and informative gold. Our storerooms heave with old negatives, notebooks, receipts, cash books, diaries and letters and we LOVE IT.

It is with a heavy heart these last few weeks that Dusty and the Fonds have scrolled through our vast database of past enquiries, deleting the names and addresses  of people we have come to know as old friends.

"Goodbye Bob Bunting"* whispered Dusty* through tears as she deleted our first ever enquiry.

"Farewell Mavis Moobs"* wept the Fonds* as he shredded an enquiry regarding 18th century paving stones in Stromness.

We can still hold on to any information uncovered during the course of investigation for future reference but our enquiries seem all blank and impersonal now that they contain correspondence addressed to and signed by no-one... Sob...

For more information see here

* All names have been changed for this blog post re: GDPR

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Ha-Pee Old Beltane

Happy 'Aald Beltin' dear readers! According to our beloved Ernest Walker Marwick, the Old Beltane or May Day used to fall, by our calendar, on the 12th of May.

It has been a very wet, cold winter here in Orkney and, although we have had a wee share of sunshine, there is still an annoying nip in the air. April and May are always thus. To quote Mr Marwick:

"We have no sooner had a couple of halcyon days, blue as sapphire, than there comes a bleak wind which cuts us to the bone..."

Consequently, the farmers have been a bit later than usual sowing their fields but, according to Marwick, neither peats were cut nor bere seeds sown until 'Orkney Beltane (Old Style)' with this tradition still being observed in some parts of Orkney and Shetland in the 1970s.

Bel for sun and tein for fire, Beltane was a farewell to dark winter and a welcome to Summer months. F. Marian McNeill, author of The Silver Bough tells how "fairies, witches and all the uncanny creatures of the Otherworld" were abound on May Day eve and sprigs of rowan were carried, worn and festooned around the home to ward them off. Rowan was also perched in the midden (the bin, basically) because that is where the 'black sisterhood', i.e. witches, used to hang out. Keep it classy sisters.

As is usual with Orcadian traditions, the Beltane celebrations would not be complete without a liberal sprinkling of urine for lucky domestic animals . For it's healing powers obviously... Honestly, this example is the tip of a urine-soaked iceberg. People used it ALL the time. They sprinkled it on their animals, women about to give birth, left it lying about in buckets, put it in their eyes, drank it... All. The. Time.

References: D31/BBC/7
The Silver Bough Volumes I and II.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Samuel Laing of Papdale

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the death of Samuel Laing of Papdale, who died in Edinburgh
on 23rd April 1868.
Samuel Laing was born in Kirkwall on the 1st October 1780 and baptized on the 2nd. His parents were Robert Laing of Strynzie and Margaret Blaw.
OPR/21/2 Birth/baptism of Samuel Laing, Oct 1780
According to Who was Who in Orkney, he was educated "at Kirkwall Grammar School and in an Edinburgh counting house. He went to Kiel to learn German and later from a London counting house became secretary to a merchant in Holland and British Consul in Rotterdam, rapidly learning Dutch."

He is described as "Norse scholar, soldier, entrepreneur, agricultural improver, linguist, author and translator."
In 1818 he inherited his family's estate in Orkney and settled at Papdale House, St Ola.

Papdale House (Archive Reference: TK2461)
One of his best known translations was of Snorri Sturlusson's 'Heimskringla' the saga history of the Kings of Norway in 1844, copies of which we have here in
the Orkney Room.
If you would like to learn more about Samuel Laing, we have a copy of his Autobiography which we keep in the Orkney Room under reference 920 Y LAI. There are also many lending copies in the Orkney Library downstairs.
In this publication which was published in 2000, it says the original manuscript has been lost. We are pleased to say that that is no longer the case. In 2003 the original manuscript was deposited in the Orkney Archive on behalf of the owner. This means the public can request to see it in the Archive Searchroom whenever we are open.
Here are a couple of pages:
D1/853 Original memoir/diary of Samuel Laing 1816-1855

D1/853 Original memoir/diary of Samuel Laing 1816-1855

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Bath Record Office Poll

Why, shucks, and many thanks to Bath Record Office staff for voting for us in their poll of favourite Archives.

I'd like to thank my mum...

Monday, 16 April 2018

Orkney at War (January-June 1918)

The 12th instalment of our "Orkney at War" Exhibition is now available to see downstairs on the blue carpeted wall in the Library (aka the Wavy Wall).
The display shows how Orkney and Orcadians were affected by the war in their daily lives, using items from the Archive collections which were created at the time. Items such as newspaper reports, scrapbooks, council minutes, photographs, letters and diaries.

Here are a few items from the main exhibition:

From Gunner Astles' Diary (Archive reference: D1/237): Gunner Astles was stationed at Hoxa Battery in South Ronaldsay and was a keen observer of his surroundings. His home county was Cheshire.

"Wednesday 2nd January 1918

The forenoon was very dull and a slight westerly wind prevailed. A little rain, but not much. About 2pm the wind changes to north and strong, with a very severe snap of Arctic weather in consequence. It was very cold, freezing hard and much snow fell, but very fine it was not long before the wind blew it all away from the camp.

Monday 28th January 1918

A funeral was on in the village, which in Orkney is never attended with women. The neighbours, friends and relatives follow behind and the body is conveyed in the hearse. The funeral passed us by and altho' but a few hundred miles away from home, we feel the change of custom.

The weddings here are also very peculiar to our own home. Invites are issued on the Monday and the deed is done on the following Thursday as a rule. The custom is carried out pretty well always and even engagements are entertained with dancing and merry making. In the village Cromarty hall, a large hall owned by a man in the name of Cromarty, is usually the rendezvous, and since I have settled here I have heard of several thus. The wedding usually takes place at night, kept up all that night, the next day perhaps, and the same night ends. A church ceremony is not necessary, a parlour, hall and even farm being appropriate for the person to join up the happy couple.

A farmer's cart is now outside the hut and, as we hear its usual noise of the wheels, "click-clack, click, click, clack", and a voice in the mess calling, "cart up" it again seems like old times, this being the first night for some time he has been able to bring up the meat, etc. from the village."

From Dr. Duncan's Scrapbook (Ref: D1/1127)

Private James Findlay, wounded in action.

From the Orcadian Newspaper, 12th Jan 1918 - No Light on Barrow

Before Sheriff Mercer at the Orkney Sheriff Court on Tuesday, William John Garden, representing the firm of R Garden Ltd, being the firm responsible for a message boy in charge of a barrow which contrary to the Defence of the Realm Regulation, carried no light on the night of December 15th last, tendered a plea of guilt to the charge.

The Sheriff said it was necessary that the order should be attended to, because in the darkened condition of the streets just now, the presence of vehicles of the kind set out in the charge might prove a serious danger to the public if not marked out by lights, and that was no doubt the reason for the passing of the order. The penalty in this case must be £1. The fiscal drew attention to the fact that a few barrows were carrying lanterns which did not show a red light to the rear, and he wished to point out that that was not a proper compliance with the Order. The Sheriff - it would be well if the public would note that the mere carrying of a light is not sufficient. There must be a lamp (or lamps) which besides showing a white light in front shows a red light behind. Albert Maxwell, merchant, Kirkwall, charged with a similar offence, in respect of his message boy, also tendered a plea of guilty, and the same penalty was imposed.

From Dr. Duncan's Scrapbook (Archive Reference: D1/1127):

Private Robert Sutherland, died of wounds

From Archive reference: D1/1062:
Programme for Grand Concert in aid of The Royal Marine Prisoners of War Fund, by The Hoxa Royal Marines.
From Dr. Duncan's Scrapbook (Archive reference: D1/1127):
Private James Burgess, fell in action.

From the Orcadian Newspaper, 2nd February1918 - Food Shortage

The food shortage is now becoming noticeable in Kirkwall. on Saturday night several butcher's shops were completely sold out early in the evening, and nearly every evening one or other have to shut before the normal closing hour. Butchers, of course, are now, in addition to observing the instructions in regard to meatless days, receiving only a proportion of the meat they have been able to dispose of for some time back. At present some difficulty is experienced in keeping the daily sales with proper limits, but the introduction of the meat rationing scheme, which is expected to be in operation shortly, will no doubt remedy this.

From Gunner Astles' Diary (Ref: D1/237): HMS Narborough & HMS Opal tragedy

[1st April 1918]
     During the Blizzard of January [12th] two destroyers ran aground some miles away from here [Hoxa Battery]. All hands were lost bar one. To-day I have been to see the wrecks, and a good deal of nature I saw.
     The wrecks are the scenes enacted one never hears of, but I should think it one of the greatest accidents in the Navy. For two destroyers crash on the rocks, hardly 50 yds from the cliff side, and then all hands to perish from shock and exposure, seems jolly hard lines in a place like it has happened in.

Able Seaman William Sissons was the only survivor [Photo ref: L1786/2]

The dilemma of the survivors must have been sad for the cold, blizzard raging, and the fact of the cliffs being covered in snow on a dark night must have been a very trying time before they expired.

From Stromness School Logbook (ref: CO5/93/5):

Transcription of a thank you letter from the King George V and Queen Mary to the children and teachers of Orkney

From John Fraser's Scrapbook (Ref: D1/692): Awards and Medals [exact dates are not always given for these entries, but they are in the later part of the book which suggests they occurred later in the war.]

Also included in the exhibition is a handbook on how to spot German submarines which was published in April 1918. This booklet was collected by Dr. T Crouther Gordon as research for his book, Early Flying in Orkney. All pages are on display, but here are just a couple of the pages as examples (Archive reference: D1/1017/5):
The 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th instalments are still displayed in various locations around the building and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th instalments, including a special feature of the sinking of HMS Hampshire, are available to see in a folder in the Archive Searchroom. Click on "Orkney At War" in the labels to see more blog posts on this subject.

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