Monday 21 December 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: M is for...


When you visit the Archive Searchroom you will be offered gloves to wear or the option of washing your hands with soapy water. You might be wondering why we don't offer sanitiser. It has been suggested that sanitiser can be harmful to paper and therefore can damage our collections.

A study on the Impact of Hand Sanitizers on Collection Materials has been conducted by the Library of Congress and their findings can be found here.  

Extract: "The Preservation and Testing Division (PRTD) screened alcohol and water-based sanitisers to assess their effect on paper based collection materials. 

Their findings were that the results from colormetry measurements indicated an increase in yellowness for the coated relative to uncoated papers, where both were exposed to elevated heat and humidity. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers showed the most significant change in color compared to water-based. Differences in colour between the uncoated and coated aged samples were visually detectable in some cases. For the water-based sanitizers, the water-based formulation with the fewest ingredients, showed minimal to no detectable color difference after application. While hand washing is recommended over sanitising, because the former removes dirt and oils where the later does not, if sanitisers continue to be offered at various institutions, water-based formulations are recommended."

Although water-based formulations are recommended in the Library of Congress study, this study by Which magazine on Hand Hygiene, soap and sanitiser gel, adds to the argument that washing your hands with soap is safer than using non-alcoholic or water-based hand sanitisers. 

Extract: "It's all about the type of virus we're dealing with. COVID-19 is an enveloped virus. This means that the RNA (nucleic acid - the viral genetic material) is coated in a lipid (fatty) layer. Soap is able to dissolve this lipid layer, causing the virus to fall apart and stopping it from binding to our cells. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers work in a similar way, inactivating the virus by breaking down the lipid layer.

Alcohol-free hand sanitisers commonly contain ingredients such as benzalkonium choride or chlorhexidine digluconate. A recent study in the Journal of Hospital Medicine (March 2020) found these ingredients less effective in deactivating viruses similar to COVID-19 (although the study looked at surfaces not hands)."


That's enough science for one day. Here's part of a nice map of Kirkwall to view:

Kirkwall and Grain, Dundas Estate. William Aberdeen dated 1766 Reference: D8/E/19


We would like to wish all our followers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Our next Archive in a Pandemic Blog post will be on the 11th January 2021. Stay safe out there folks!

The Archive Christmas Tree with Hudson Bay Bear and the Archive Gibbon 

Monday 14 December 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: L is for...


Look at this picture readers. You may think it is a store-cupboard but no, this has been the archive staff tea-room for the duration of the pandemic.

No longer permitted to use the staff room downstairs, we sit one at a time with the piles of chairs and tables which were removed from the main area of the library to make social distancing easier.

Gone are the merry days of inter-departmental chats over a cuppa accompanied by sticky home bakes all taken from a communal plate. The library staff are are still using the downstairs staff room but with limited numbers. We sit alone over our lonesome cups of tea and, alone, we stare out at the car park and, if we go on our tip-toes, the supermarkets. Sometimes we play our harmonicas to while away the minutes. (We are not very good.)

Also, the desk staff are quite often trapped in our perspex bubble for the mornings and so have to take a tea-break in the afternoon. I know! 10.30am has been tea-time for many years and hot drinks just make us snoozy in the afternoons.

Thank goodness for the atrium over the lending area. We can press ourselves against the glass and still see our dear librarian colleagues. The above photo also shows that L is for Looooooong way out. Archive visitors still use the same staircase to enter the search room but, upon exiting, they are requested to follow a series of arrows right to the end of the corridor, down the Western staircase, and out the fire exit.

Fingers crossed that 2021 sees the return of sociable tea-times.

Monday 7 December 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: K is for...


Kirkwall is where we are, the great metropolis of Orkney. Home of a cathedral, two palaces, a ghost of a castle and our stupendous workplace the Orkney Library & Archive. 

Kirkwall Postcard by W H Hourston, our ref: WHH8612

Kirkwall has been hard hit by the Pandemic with many shops struggling to cope with the lack of custom. A popular music venue and colourful cafĂ© has recently announced defeat and will not re-open again. 

During Lockdown it was very quiet in the centre of town. 

A Saturday afternoon in Albert Street during Lockdown, April 11th 2020

Normally Albert Street would be full of locals and visitors. But this year there was no usual crop of Summer People: tourists, cruise-shippers, students or archaeologists. 

A Saturday afternoon in December 2020

The compulsory wearing of face-masks in shops has given more locals the confidence to meet and chat in the street again, but even now the shops are still quiet when they should be busy with Christmas shoppers. Many people might still be nervous about visiting the town centre and choose to stay at home and shop online. 

Tenuous Link Alert!

Back in the past when the residents of Kirkwall and Orkney had to rely on trades and shops to be close by, Kirkwall was teeming with businesses. This is the Kirkwall Burgh list from the 1920 Peace's Almanac: 

Peace's Almanac 1920 (Orkney Room Ref: 914.1 YZ Periodicals)

Peace's Almanac 1920 (Orkney Room Ref: 914.1 YZ Periodicals)

Photo credits: A Saturday in April by John Ross Scott; A Saturday in December by Lucy Gibbon

Monday 30 November 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: J is for


Never mind the long rumoured Friends reunion, the best reconnections this year have been with Orkney Archive and their visitors. Autumn/Winter usually brings our faithful local researchers back to the Searchroom and it was a very merry morning when Balfour Blogger and small island dwelling regular Island Hopper were finally able to book in again. Papers were spread out over desks, opinions sought and chatter was had.

The building reopened to staff in July and, whilst we were delighted to remake each other's acquaintance, without our researchers we felt adrift, hollow and without purpose. The archive staff are never happier than when pressing a box of old letters into the hands of an eager local historian or helping them track down a half-remembered photograph.

We also like eavesdropping on the conversations of others and felt sad when this could not be achieved.

Our requirement that users wear masks in the searchroom means that we are seeing slightly less of our lovely visitors but it has been a tonic having a (slightly) busier searchroom.

Long term research is currently taking place on the The Balfour family, Highland Park Whisky Distillery, Lady Burroughs of Rousay and Orkney & Shetland's place in 15th-18th century European Trade Networks.

Hurrah for jolly reunions!

Monday 23 November 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: I is for...


During the UK Lockdown from March 2020, all the staff in the Orkney Archive were separated. The Fonds and I carried on working but from our respective homes, and only came into the Archive once a week, on different days, to keep up with emails and general maintenance of the Archive Collections. The other staff members either worked from home too or were redeployed in the Community Hub answering phones and helping elderly, vulnerable and the self-isolating to adjust to Lockdown. 

All the staff talked to each other on the phone and online in various ways, but    it was just   not the same...

The Fonds said: "Lockdown began slightly strangely for me because I was on annual leave when the announcement was made. So I returned to an empty Archive to collect some work to take home. Having been unaware that such a dramatic step as Lockdown was imminent, I had no time to prepare for home working, and had no access to work emails, files, etc. so the first few days were a huge adjustment in terms of being able to work reasonably efficiently during the following weeks of Lockdown.

Of course, working in isolation from your work colleagues has more challenges than simply being able to complete tasks. A large part of any day in the Archive, before the pandemic, was spent speaking to researchers, other members of Archive staff and other council colleagues. That all came to an abrupt stop. One result of that was I found I was spending the best part of any day seated in my "home office", not moving around and not talking to another person. That's not good for anyone, mentally or physically.

I did adjust to working from home quite well, and there were certainly some good points. Going to work in slippers, sharing my "office" with the dog and the cat, and a better view out of the window, for example. However, despite these advantages, it was a relief to return to the Archive and get back to some form of normality. I like the separation between work and home, which was lost a bit during Lockdown, so I'm hoping that I don't have to return to home working in the future."

Archiver got creative and started a new Blog called Orkney Library & Archive Like where she shared some of our personal activities during Lockdown to cheer us up. It was fun to read what other members of staff were doing. Here is a screen shot of the title page: 

Archiver said: "During Lockdown I awoke at 6.30am every morning with children in my bed. The children required cereal and television immediately. Later, I sat hunched over a chest of drawers trying to decipher old handwriting on a screen whilst the children sat on my lap and wiped a mixture of crisp-dust and jam onto my laptop.

'This is intolerable', I whispered to myself as I saw yet another sour dough loaf being turned out by an internet person who was 'trying to fill their days'.

There were biscuits. Many, many biscuits. Was this many biscuits ok? Do biscuits count as essentials? Would I still fit into my work trousers when the Archive re-opened? I baked some home-made biscuits when the proper ones ran out. The children said they were 'rank' and then asked for their twentieth bowl of cereal that day.

When the Archive finally re-opened to staff, I stepped into a strongroom and shut the heavy door. Silent but for the relaxing hum of the air-conditioning unit, the room was clean, exactly 17 degrees centigrade and there was no jam anywhere. My work trousers protested as I lifted down a box of letters. 'Hello again my loves', I cooed to the archives. The archives said nothing."


we mostly worked alone, 

hardly seeing anyone, 

for months....

As I live alone, I am used to my own company and thought I'd be fine, but I soon realised that I really missed other people and I did feel very lonely at times. I looked forward to my one day of the week when I came into the Library and Archive building and really hoped that there would be at least one other person there to see and talk to.  Family and friends kept me company online in video chats, quizzes and even Countdown matches, but I missed seeing them in person and being able to hug them and play about and do daft things. During video chats, I would "take" my sister to the beach and she would in turn "take" me on walks up hills and in forests. We made do.  

I gained some comfort from cataloguing old documents, which was the main work task we could do from home. It was great to spend a bit more time than usual reading through the records and absorbing interesting stories and facts. My favourite new item was an account of a family who moved from Orkney to Australia, The George Irvine Saga (1841-1925). They too had to adjust to new surroundings and ways of living. They did not have the threat of a dangerous virus hanging over them, but times were harsh and some of the adults and kids died far too young. Through the account of George, his two wives and their 18 children (!!), are some great life stories spanning 130 years. 

Here is the description and some extracts:: 

The George Irvine Saga (1841-1925), compiled by one of his children. 48 typed pages. 

Chapter headings: Adventurous Early Days 1841/1882; Second Marriage 1883/1939; Forced retirement to Melbourne; Bereavements 1925/1939; Great Changes - World War II; Appendix I - Memoirs of the Irvine Family and Early Lake Rowan Days by Mrs E M Willis; Appendix II - Reminiscences of Lake Rowan, Memoirs of George Irvine. 

He was born at Garson in Sandwick and emigrated to Australia with his wife Margaret Groat from Westray, their first child was born on the boat over. They had nine children and eventually settled at Lake Rowan in Victoria on a 320 acre farm he renamed 'Garson'. 

Extract from George Irvine Saga Reference: D1/1715

His first wife, Margaret, sadly died in 1882 when their 9th child was just 2 months old. He married again in 1883 to Sarah Montgomery. They also had nine children. 

Extract from George Irvine Saga Reference: D1/1715

In 1902 George returned to Orkney after his brother (John) had died leaving him three farms in Sandwick (Garson, Buckan and Stokan). He also visited Westray and persuaded his first wife's nephew Tom Groat to go back to Australia with him. 

Due to ill-health, George moved to Melbourne in 1908 (his elder sons still living on the farm). One daughter Effie married Sydney Burley who was in the Royal Navy during WW1 and was in Scapa Flow, Orkney at the time of the German Fleet scuttling. He was on board HMAS Australia. 

After the war another Orkney resident, Dave Rendall, joined the family when they lived in Rankin Springs, he died while a POW during WW2.  George Irvine's second wife, Sarah, died in 1939. They were both buried at Lake Rowan cemetery. 

[The piece includes lots of family stories and births, marriages and deaths of all 18 children of George Irvine up to 1970]

Monday 16 November 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: H is for


Dusty has already explained that visitors to the archive are asked to wear stylish green gloves when handling the archives.

This is not required in the Orkney Room, but you will spy bottles of hand sanitiser dotted about the room. Users are asked to sanitise their hands before perusing the books. We have affixed these rather bossy seeming signs beside the bottles:






 Not just dry. Properly dry.

The reason we cannot recommend sanitiser before working with archives is that it is too harsh for our poor, delicate documents. We gently wash the search room tables with warm soapy water rather than anti-bac spray and sing softly to the archives as we unwrap them (which we did of course anyway.) We encourage the visitors to coo and/or sing to them too but uptake has been disappointingly low.

There are bottles of sanitiser in both staff and public areas, dispensers mounted on walls and little bottles in our bags and pockets. Our hands are really, really, really clean...

Monday 9 November 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: G is for


Green gloves in particular for us. Here is Archiver modelling them:

Gloves have become an important part of our day. We once only donned white cotton gloves to handle very old archives and the Fonds sometimes wore just one glove (not unlike Michael Jackson) when cataloguing photographs. But now we have changed to using these delightful disposable premium nitrile powder-free green gloves. 

Now we wear gloves when handling archives, when cleaning tables, chairs and equipment after use and when cleaning touch points around the building. Even the Library staff wear them! 

Is it me, or does this pic make Archiver's hands look enormous?

We also set a pair out on the Searchroom tables for the public to use when handling archives. If they really don't want to wear gloves, we ask that they wash their hands before handling the archives. In the long run, the green gloves are better for our archives, as turning pages of documents was often difficult with the cotton ones.  

I looked for gloves in our Archive collections and found one mention in the Balfour papers where a set of cotton gloves were sent to Master Edward Balfour around 1836, when he was aged 5.

 “for Master Edward Balfour with Mr. Maconochie’s kindest regards" From bundle D2/50/36

The original gloves were transferred to the Orkney Museum in 1990

We also have a letter written by Edward Balfour (aged 10) from Cliffdale in Shapinsay on 20th May 1841, not about gloves, but about apples. We just like it and want to share it with you. 

"Cliffdale, 20 May 1841. Dear Mama, I hope you are quite well. I am going to send you in some tansy for you to day if there any boat going. I was at the garden of Sound on Monday for the first time and I saw some little apples about the size of a pea. I hope you are all coming out soon. I have no more to say now. I remain your affectionate son, Edward Balfour." From bundle D2/50/36

Edward Balfour was born on 13th December 1831 in Shapinsay. His parents were Captain William Balfour and Mary Margaret (Baikie) Balfour. His father inherited the Balfour and Trenaby estate in 1842. His brother David inherited the estate in 1846 and engaged architect David Bryce to design and build Balfour Castle between 1847 and 1850. 

That was the only mention of gloves in the archive catalogue. 

BUT There are two people called Glover mentioned:

D1/1048/1: The Bismark Story - May 1941. A compilation by Gerry Glover (P.O./L.T.O.)

D85/1/12: Traill of Woodwick papers: Correspondence between Thomson Glover and John H Traill, 1887. 

Monday 2 November 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: F is for


We offer books, maps, census material, photographs and documents dating from the 1400s but the main pull of the Orkney Archive has always been the impossibly lovely visages of the staff. Sadly, you will no longer be able to examine these up close as we have been wearing face masks on the search room floor since re-opening.

Our original council-issue grey, flaccid rags made us feel sad/unstylish/like we were in prison, so we often wear our own. As expected, our masks reflect our personalities.


Staunch nationalist Dusty bought her mask from the same shop as Nicola Sturgeon and has installed a small speaker in the side which plays Scotland the Brave whenever a visitor arrives.

Our crafty and gardening-loving archive assistant HandyAndy made her floral delight with her own fair hands. Like her cakes and plants, each home-made mask is impeccably made and cared for.

Our library slash archive assistant Bootsy has, along with many fellow spectacle wearers, been suffering from steamy lenses. Tina Turner made steamy windows sound great but steamy lenses are both blinding and reminiscent of pervy nerds. Something had to be done. Her funky masks include the genius addition of an inserted pipe-cleaner to pin the top of the mask to her nose. 

I myself ordered an ecologically and morally sound face mask woven from left -over rice crispies who had stipulated in their wills that they wished to be fashioned into a mask after their deaths.

What about you readers, do you wear a sporty brand mask or is it long, fringed and scarf-like? Have you sent away for a personalised one or do you simply pick up a packet of disposable masks with your weekly shop? Let us see when you next visit us as we do require all archive users to wear a mask whilst walking around the building although you can remove it when sitting down to work.

Monday 26 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: E is for


Throughout the lonely weeks of Lockdown and the gradual re-awakening of services, Archive staff have been diligently answering enquiries. Even during Lockdown itself, when most of our staff scattered to the four winds either self-isolating or re-deployed in essential services, there was always at least one person with a nose in a book or deciphering a document or developing a photograph. 

Due to the high number of enquiries we received during this time period and the low numbers of staff, we are still working through the backlog. As we gradually catch up, please don't be too disappointed if we take a little longer than usual to answer, we will not forget you. 

At the beginning of 2020 we changed to a paperless method of recording enquiries as around 80% now come via email. If anyone does actually write a letter, it is a source of much delight and everyone wants to see it. The last one we received was in green ink. What a treat! (we are so easily pleased...)

Each enquiry is recorded in a database and given a reference number. The enquirer is sent an acknowledgement and their number. We then record any work done and emails sent on our Enquiry Progress Report form. Enquirer's contact details are never shown on this form, they are only known by their initials. This helps to protect the enquirer's contact details which are only saved in the database. Any scans done are saved in the enquiries folder along with the Progress Report. 

There are five members of staff who do enquiries, two full-time archivists and three part-time archive assistants who all job-share one position. Sometimes an enquiry is done by just one person, and sometimes by many of us, especially when one of us utilises the "Help! I'm Stuck" category. We all have developed different strengths and interests over the years, so sometimes it is good to bring a fresh pair of eyes to an enquiry or look at it from another perspective. 

We don't charge for enquiries, but at the same time do not accept ones which will take a great long time. Some take a couple of hours research time at the most, but many can be done within an hour. When I say an hour, what I really mean is 10 minutes one day, 20 minutes another day, 30 minutes the next day all slotted in between our other daily tasks and running the searchroom. 

Since Lockdown began up to the present day we have researched and answered enquiries on the following subjects:

Place names of Swona

Photos of Copinsay

Family History queries: Reid, Turfus and Corrigall, etc

Maeshowe drawing (see below)

Undated pencil drawing of Maeshowe, archive reference D8/3/11

Helping with research for Radio shows

Orkney Piers

Witchcraft trials

James Keith of Benholm and Cromwellian Orkney (see below)

Extract from Statement made by George Monck regarding an iron box of jewels, 18 January 1654 

Old mills

Crown Chamberlains

Helping with research for journalists on articles

Councillors and council official enquiries

Vice-Admirals of Scotland

Margaret Gardiner

Stromness Footballers (see below)

A new deposit resulted from this enquiry of this photo and a small silver
medal awarded in 1915, archive reference AccNo:2819.

Scuttling of the German Fleet

Helping with research for documentary film makers 

Motor Vehicle Registrations

Old maps (see below)

Lithographed plan of the commonty of Deerness as divided, 1839
Grainger and Miller, surveyor. Archive Reference D7/2/1[F4]

Margaret Tait

Press gangs

Military history, particularly soldier's lives

Orkney's connections to the slave trade

Kirkwall Streets

Newspaper copies of particular articles or whole papers for birthdays and anniversaries

Helping with research for book publications both fiction and non-fiction

Orkney sound archives 

Help with Fereday Prize projects

and many many more...

We do love enquiries and look forward every day to learning about the contents of our Archive collections, Orkney history and what you love to research too. 

Monday 19 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: D is for


Charleston Dance Diagram by Andy Warhol 

DON'T take your partner by the hand

Keep your distance, touching's banned!

Two colleagues in the corridor!

There's not enough room on this tiny floor

First, step to the left

Then step to the right...

Then step to the left...

Then step to the right...

Then step to the left...

Then step to the right...

Laugh at the silliness of it all

Then flatten yourself against the wall

Breath a sigh that all's gone well

But wait! What's that unearthly smell?

A third colleague comes round the corner

She's far too close, quick, someone warn her!

All three dance about like fools

It's the work-place dance, these are the rules.

Oh readers, we are exhausted by all the dancing about each other in the halls! Is this happening in every workplace across the land? We were all subjected to Scottish Country Dancing as children and so sometimes get carried away and end up doing an entire (socially distant) Virginia Reel up and down the corridor. Most tiring.

Library staff downstairs have been complaining about our ceiling-quaking gallops and raucous whoops, but I've seen them doing the (socially distant) charleston when they change over at the desk so they have no power over me at all.

Monday 12 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: C is for


Every day we are open we are cleaning especially for you, dear public. Before and after each booking, we clean the table and the chair (hence the plastic chairs) and the laminated table label. 

Here is one of our table labels (it's really a sign, but table label is more pleasing to say): 

If it is red-side up, then we know that the table needs cleaned. 

We also have a sign on our public pc.

If it is red-side up we know to clean the keyboard after each use. 

We also have a signs on our Microfilm Readers 

You know the drill now...

When a surface or machine is ready to be cleaned, our desk staff press a button...

...and our small band of backroom staff are ready to spring into action at the sound of the trumpet (no boring doorbell sound for us), on the way donning disposable gloves, picking up blue paper-towels and either soapy water or anti-viral spray depending on what they need to clean. 

Soapy water is for anywhere we are likely to handle archives as it is more gentle. 

At the end of morning bookings we also clean all the touch points along the corridor which our dear public may have touched, such as door handles, the lift buttons, light switches and bannisters. 

At the end of the day our wonderful cleaning staff come in and clean all surfaces and touch points again. 

We are pleased to say that it is going smoothly and there has been no need to put up this sign yet...

See previous blog here

Monday 5 October 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: B is for


It is delightful to be open again and to welcome readers and researchers back to the search room. Gone are the days, however,  when researchers could just pop in on a whim to research a topic. We now ask that visitors book a research slot either by telephone or by email. You can find our contact details at the following link:


We have slightly new opening hours post-lockdown to allow for cleaning, quarantining and arguing over whose turn it is to clean the public bannisters and light switches that day:

Time slots will last for 50 minutes and start on the hour. Consecutive slots may be available if you need more time. You will be allocated a table in the Searchroom or the Orkney Room depending on your needs. If you just need a microfilm reader, these are bookable too. 


New Opening Times in Archive Searchroom

Monday                             10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Tuesday                            10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Wednesday                                             CLOSED
Thursday         10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm, 5pm-6pm
Friday                              10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Saturday                           10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Sunday                                                   CLOSED


New Opening Times in Orkney Room (Local Studies Room)
Monday                             10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Tuesday                            10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Wednesday                                             CLOSED
Thursday         10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm, 5pm-6pm
Friday                              10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Saturday                           10am-12pm, 2pm-4pm
Sunday                                                   CLOSED

Excess furniture has been removed in both rooms to allow for safe physical distancing. Face-masks (or coverings) are to worn when moving around the rooms, but can be removed when seated. Tables and chairs will be cleaned before your booking. 

We are doing everything we can to keep you safe whilst you read and research.

Monday 28 September 2020

Archive in a Pandemic A-Z: A is for...


This the start of a new weekly blog of our experiences in the time of COVID-19. 

This is a link to a tour of our Archive in words and photos which was presented for this year's Doors Open Days Scotland. A complete change for this year as a result of the pandemic is that all the tours and presentations of the venues were only online.  

Below are some of the images from the online Archive Tour. To see the complete tour click here

Friday 3 July 2020

The Identity of William Balfour

My confusion of two men with the same name and where it led me...

A new post from The Balfour Blogger #2

There is so much in the Balfour papers. One letter can lead you on a long trail to sort out the context. Like many other families, the Balfours used the same given names over and over again, sometimes in the same generation, but different branches. In my own family, my mother was Catherine, an older sister was Catherine and she named her daughter Catherine. For women in earlier generations, there was little chance of confusion as they tended to take their husband's surname when they married. However, for men the possibility of confusion is multiplied. 

On the outside of letter D2/24/1/76, there is a notation that the letter is from 'Col. W. Balfour' 

Letter referenced D2/24/1/76 from Balfour papers

I had already dealt with many letters from 'Capt. Balfour', for example D2/24/1/32.

Letter referenced D2/24/1/32 from Balfour papers

My first thought was to work out if this was the same person. The first hint was the date of receipt - 13 Nov 1824. I had already catalogued many from Captain William Balfour dated to the year 1825, so already I was suspicious. Did Capt W Balfour become Lt Col W Balfour? I assumed not: one rank was Navy and the other Army. Next, the writing was quite different. And then, the address was Sydney, New South Wales. So now to work out which of the many 'William Balfours' was sending a letter from Australia to John Balfour MP in 1824. 

William Balfour (1719-1786) had three sons, John (1750-1842), Thomas (1751-1799) and David (1754-1813) and several daughters. John had no children; Thomas had two sons and a daughter; David had one son and a daughter. One of Thomas Balfour's sons was called William (1781-1846) and one of David Balfour's sons was called William (1784-1838). So, both these William Balfours were alive in 1824. The elder William (son of Thomas) became Captain William Balfour R.N. of Elwick 4th of Trenaby, lived mainly in Edinburgh, and acted for John Balfour both as his agent and in regards to his holdings and the politics of Orkney and Shetland. The younger William (son of David) became Lieutenant Colonel William Balfour of the 82nd Regiment at Edinburgh Castle. So, now I had worked out which William Balfour had written the letter, David's son. 

The letter contains complaints about his superior officer, Colonel Thornton. In particular because he, William, his wife and young family had been turned out of their quarters for Colonel Thornton's mistress. 
"Colonel Thornton our commanding officer has arrived in as good a state of Body as he has been for some years, but I conceive somewhat impaired in his intellect. My principal reason for saying so is his having brought to this country a woman as his mistress for whose accommodation he has turned my wife and children our of the appartments we occupyed in Barracks" 

He is not too concerned because out of present evil often arises future good. In fact, he had been offered a position that could not only get him out of his present predicament, but could prove advantageous. 

"His Excellency Sir Thos. Brisbane the governor has promised to give me a command which will remove me from the possibility of the commanding officer's caprice...has promised also to reserve a portion of land for two of my boys..."

The portion of land quoted is 4000 acres. 

He hoped that "the small beginning which is only in my power to command could be of use, for by the time it would be proper for either of them to come out here there would be a great accumulation of sheep and horned cattle on the Farm..."

At the time of this letter in November 1824, Lt Col William Balfour said he was bound for India and his plan was for his wife to stay in Australia to sort out the farm, then to return to Europe and employ a "bailiff under the superintendency of a gentleman of high respectability". 

This was not, in fact, what happened. In January 1825, he arrived in Sydney with a group of prisoners on the ship Castle Forbes. He then went with a detachment to Port Dalrymple in Van Dieman's Land (now Launceston in Tasmania). He was appointed civil and military commandant in April 1825. In August 1825, his wife Charlotte died in Launceston, leaving him with 5 sons and 3 daughters to look after. In February 1826, he went to Sydney to transfer command of the regiment to Van Dieman's Land. On his return, he defeated Matthew Brady and his bushrangers, to the delight of the locals. The area was divided between civil and military commands, and he was put in charge of all the military districts. He was also granted 2000 acres of land. In Hobart Town, he was chosen as president of the committee for the public stores and civil establishment. Among his works there, he is remembered for extending the barracks at Hobart to ensure there was no overcrowding and so removing a source of disorder among the soldiers.

So, a simple letter from a man to his uncle has led me on a path of discovery of the military life of William Balfour. He entered military service as a boy-ensign and joined the 40th foot on 25th July 1799. He rose through the ranks and received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy for service in the field in the Peninsula and south of France in 1813-1814. He received the gold medal in command of his regiment at the battle of Nivelle. He also mentioned in both the British Dictionary of National Biography and in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Wonder what my next adventure with the Balfour papers will be. 

Monday 8 June 2020

The Wreck of the Jonge Louisa - a gift from the sea

A post from the Balfour Blogger:

On 12th February 1785, Pat Hagart, Factor to the Earldom of Orkney, sat down at his desk in Kirkwall and began a two year correspondence with Messrs Jean Texier, ship owners in Amsterdam, which ended with a fraction of the value of their beautiful brigantine and her cargo being delivered to them in January 1787.

Pat Hagart, as representative of the Crown in matters of the sea, had received news of a remarkable event off Deerness, the most easterly parish on mainland Orkney, and had gone to there to investigate.
D5-29-3 Extract of Letter written by Pat Hagart in 1785
In the previous month of 1785, on Sunday 16th January, a brigantine had been found three or four leagues east of Orkney. She was in a desperate condition...and with much difficulty brought to land but without any person aboard. Pat Hagart does not say who had first spotted her, but that seven boats from Deerness went out to the stricken vessel and established that not a single person remained aboard.
Example of an 18th century Brigantine
By John Robinson, George Francis Dow - The Sailing Ships of New England 1607-1907,
Public Domain,
The brigantine was found at least 11 miles/16.5 kilometres out. It was January, when the weather could be inclement and dangerous, yet someone in Deerness or out at sea to the east saw the vessel and then William Stove of Pickletillum, Robert Stove of Sandside, Andrew Cormack of Netherby, Oliver Craigie of Breck, Edward Ritch of Cutpool, Andrew Skea in Copinsay and Edward Pottinger (probably of Copinsay) set out, with 33 others, at the oars of seven boats to see what was afoot.

What they found was the Jonge Louisa, the wreck of a beautiful ship, minus one of her masts and no-one answering the Deerness men when they hailed her. Somehow the men boarded her and with much difficulty brought [her] to land.
A Brigantine Caught on a Lee Shore Painting by Richard Henry Nibbs
It is not clear where the Jonge Louisa was brought to; probably first to the island of Copinsay and subsequently to Sandside on the east coast of Deerness. Pat Hagart describes her in his letter on 9th April 1785 as being in an unfavourable situation. In November 1785 Thomas Balfour, on behalf of his brother John Balfour, owner of Copinsay, was claiming salvage on the Jonge Louisa. This suggests she was moored off Copinsay, or on Copinsay, at some time. Thomas also writes of bringing her into Sandside.

The excitement and speculation in Deerness must have been enormous. The men who brought her in were all from the east side of the parish. They were experienced seamen, the workforce of a peninsula that is almost an island, living by a combination of the land and the sea. Life was not easy in 1785. High numbers of young men were leaving Orkney to join the British Army, the Royal Navy or to go to the Nor Wast to work for the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. But that January Deerness fielded 40 men to rescue the Jonge Louisa. The possibilities for advantage from saving her were considerable and the news of her discovery will, no doubt, have travelled throughout the parish quickly.

Imagine the news spreading around Deerness from house to house in a place where many people were close family to one another and a community of neighbours and friends. There would have been amazement, a need to hear about how she had been brought in, and, much more importantly, what might be salvageable from her. Was there a cargo? What was it? In what condition? What about the outfitting of the ship? What about the crew's possessions? What was re-usable? Sails, ropes? Endless possibilities. And last, but not least, what had happened to her luckless crew?

Imagine too all the discussion by the men of the parish on what to do next. Inspection of the hold showed she carried iron and thousands of planks of wood (deals). Whilst the deals were manna from heaven to Deerness, the iron was a problem, to know how to process it and disappear it into the community, as was the ship herself. The decision must therefore have been made, probably reluctantly, to let the Crown's representative in Orkney, Pat Hagart, know of the Jonge Louisa's rescue and also Thomas Balfour, representative of one of the main landowners in Deerness.

The news of the ship's arrival appears to have taken some time to reach Pat Hagart. Note the Jonge Louisa's arrival on the 16th January and that Pat Hagart's letter is not written until the 12th February. In his letter to Amsterdam, Hagart advises that he found the ship to be load with Deals [and] iron, but strip'd of every thing that could be carried away. Just how bare was she when she arrived?

D5-29-3 Extract of letter written by Pat Hagart to Messrs Jean Texier in Feb 1785
Hagart does not give a date for his visit to Deerness but he had to go over her with a very fine tooth comb indeed to find any clue as to her ownership. He found a paper wrote in the Dutch language but very much spoilt with salt water and that gave him enough information to conclude he should write to Messrs Texier.

D5-29-3 Extract of letter written by Pat Hagart to Messrs Jean Texier in Feb 1785
Given that he did not put quill to paper until mid-February, and that there was good money to be made from the salvage of the ship and a cut in the disposal of a valuable cargo, it is reasonable to think that Hagart did not delay in writing to Messrs Texier once he knew who owned her. So any other delay in the matter was either on the part of the landowner Dr Thomas Balfour or the Deerness men. Given too that Balfour might turn her arrival on his shores to his advantage, the conclusion that Deerness men, fully aware of the claims landowner and Crown might pursue, held back on the news of her arrival, and took best advantage of what cargo no-one could argue to have been on board her when she was taken to shore. Only Deerness men could say what was still removable at that point...

Or a Danish Captain who had reported to Messrs Texier that he had seen and clearly boarded the Jonge Louisa off the Norwegian coast near the island of Hitra (previously Hitteroe) after 9th December 1784. (see below)

Pat Hagart's letter would have left Orkney by ship in trusted hands and been passed along a pathway of further trusted hands until it finally arrived in Amsterdam. Messrs Texier received Pat's letter and responded on 18th March 1785. This letter produced a response from Pat on 9th April, a speedy turnaround for the time. 

Messrs Texier were able to give a detailed account of events leading up to the arrival of the Jonge Louisa off Orkney. The ship, under the command of Captain Nathaniel Pronk, had headed from Holland, north through the Skagerrak and then south through the Cattegat, into the Baltic Sea, and to St Petersburg where she was loaded with iron, and thence to Wybourg (now Vyborg on the Russian side of the Russian/Finnish border) where a large cargo of wood was loaded. The iron belonged to Messrs Texier and the wood to Messrs Mauritz, Dreyer and Bendix with whom Pat Hagart would liaise regarding the eventual sale of the wood.
D5-29-3 Extract of letter written by Messrs Jean Texier, Amsterdam to Pat Hagart in March 1785
The Jonge Louisa turned south again, heading back to Amsterdam, came successfully back through the Baltic Sea, the Cattegat and the Skagerrak, but on or about the 9th December, being on the Coast of Jutland, the sea being very high with a great Storm, the boats having got loose and fallen upon the Hatches, tore them to pieces and the ship got soon full of water. In such condition having nothing to live upon, the Captain and Crew took to the boat and were taken up at Sea by an English Captain who carried them to Dieppe and thence back to Amsterdam to report the abandonment of the ship. 

Basic representation of the last journey of the Jonge Louisa.
Orange is the route she should have taken back to Amsterdam;
Purple shows roughly where she was blown off course to after the crew abandoned her.
Messrs Texier had some suspicion that the vessel had been left too soon by the Crew and made enquiries in Norway, being advised by a Danish Captain, that she had been seen not far from Hiether Wie (now Hitra). The Danish Captain reported his removal of the ship's cable and the greater part of the kitchen furniture. There were no further reports of her being seen until 31 days after the storm, when she appeared off Deerness, having come across the North Sea in one piece, pushed across by the east winds. 
D5/29/3 Extract from letter written by Messrs Jean Texier re Danish Captain, 7th June 1785
Once the Crown, via the Earldom, and the Balfours were involved, the Deerness inhabitants lost control of the ship and cargo but local men were employed later in 1785 to unload the vessel and transfer her cargo to Kirkwall for sale. The ship and cargo were kept under watch until dispersal, with that watch organised by Thomas Balfour's main man in Deerness, George Louttit, schoolmaster. Is his report tongue in cheek when he describes a gale on 20 October 1785, in which some of the deals were damaged? Louttit lived in Deerness and one of his sisters was married to James Petrie at Stonehall. Might his loyalties have been divided between his employer and his family's best interests?

The men who finally unloaded the Jonge Louisa were Gilbert Wick, Thomas Miller, Robert Stove, Magnus Dick, John Laughton, John Sutherland, Hugh Peace, William Work, a second Hugh Peace and William Sinclair. Is Robert Stove a young Sergeant? (See our previous blog post here). He is probably not the same Robert Stove of Sandside who helped bring the ship under control, for that group of the original seven men were in hot dispute with Pat Hagart over salvage monies. It was the opinion, when the men ultimately went to law in the autumn of 1785, of David Balfour lawyer in Edinburgh and brother of landowner Thomas Balfour, that they had no claim on the cargo of the ship, but they did have a salvage claim for the ship itself and in the end they received £70 between them for their efforts, equivalent to approximately £6000 today. Presumably it was further sub-divided with the 33 men who helped in the initial rescue of the ship.

D2/52/12 - Extract showing the result of the court case where £70 was awarded to
Deerness men for salving the ship, 16th Jan 1786
A shipwreck was a valuable event and everyone involved in processing that wreck could make money and benefit from her arrival. In the case of the Jonge Louisa, the bounty was great, and there was none of the extra effort of feeding, clothing and generally looking after her crew. The Earldom dealt with her salvage and the ultimate sale of her cargo, and the ship itself, being paid for work done by the ship's and cargo's owners. Having the opportunity to purchase and sell the cargo, the Balfours received salvage monies, bought parts of the cargo and no doubt made money from that. Others, for example: Kenneth Sutherland of Campston bought deals from the cargo; George Louttit was paid for his endeavours in Deerness; the boatmen who rescued her were paid; their lawyer was paid; the men who unloaded the ship were paid. Who knows what other bounty also furnished the houses and farms and boats of Deerness following the arrival of the Jonge Louisa.

D2/52/2  Extract showing the final salvage amount made from the wreck.
Sources used: 

Balfour papers: D2/23/3; D2/52/2; D2/52/9
Graemeshall papers: D5/29/3
History of Orkney by W P L Thomson
Google Maps