Saturday 3 February 2024

Her Orcadian Voice? Sounds of the Noughties... the seventeen noughties.

I just love this letter which I found in the Balfour Papers recently. 

The phonetic spelling of the words give a glimpse of the sound of this Orcadian woman's voice from way back in 1704.


Here is a transcription of the document - see if you can figure out what is being said. It was pretty tricky for me in places, especially with no punctuation too: 


John Covintrie
off Enhallow


Hoy 21 Febru 1704
My husband heth diseyred me
to show you that he is verie
ill of a trembling and a shek
ing somtyms hot and somtyms
cold which we judge to be a fit
of the agew which occasions
him that he canott trevell
without heserd of his lieiff
he diseyres yow to mek his
excuse to tanernes and show
him that so soon as ever
this fitt is over he shal com
over to the menland and send yow
and him word this is all at
present from your wiell wisher
Ann Grahame

[Words side on:]

he diseyrs yell send him two pund
of resins and if ye heff aniething good
agenst vomiting he thanks yow for your
eiy water but his eys continues sor yet

And here is my translation for you:


John Covingtrie
of Eynhallow


Hoy 21 February 1704
My husband has desired me
to show you that he is very 
ill of a trembling and a shak-
ing sometimes hot and sometimes
cold which we judge to be a fit
of the ague which occasions 
him so that he cannot travel
without hazard to his life.
He desires you to make his
excuses to Tankerness and show
him that as soon as ever
this fit is over, he shall come
over to the mainland and send you
and him word. This is all 
present, from your well wisher
Ann Grahame

[Words side on:]

He desires you to send him two pounds
of raisins and if you have anything good
against vomiting. He thanks you for your
eye water but his eyes continue to be sore yet. 

Unfortunately we don't know who Ann Grahame was, what her husband's name was or whether he survived this nasty sounding illness.   "Tankerness" we believe to be the Laird of Tankerness whose surname was Baikie. Let us know if you have any suggestions or corrections for the transcription. 

Letter reference D2/47/5 


  1. How delightful. With your permission, I’d love to pass this along to members of the Clan Graham Society for publication in our newsletter. I will look for an appropriate email and contact you that way. Thank you for your posts.
    - -K.W.

    1. I'm glad you like our post. Please email

  2. Fascinating. Wonderful work transcribing and digitising these old documents. What treasures in the Orkney archive!

    1. Thank you Alison for your kind words. I do enjoy sharing these wee gems and seeing everyone's reactions.


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