Diary of the Reverend John Mill, Minister of the Parishes of Dunrossness Sandwick and Cunningsburg in Shetland, 1740-1803

Author(s): Mill, Rev. John


JUNE 1889
Edited with Introduction and Notes by
Printed at the University Press by T. and A. CONSTABLE
for the Scottish History Society
THE MS. Diary of the Rev. John Mill was brought under
my notice in the year 1879 by the late Mr. Bruce of
Sumburgh, in the possession of whose family it appears to
have been since the decease of the author in 1805. Mr. Bruce
gave me permission to make use of the MS. in any way that
might be deemed suitable; and its publication in the present
form, as an issue of the Scottish History Society, has the
cordial concurrence of his son and successor.
The transcript made by myself has, by the aid of my wife,
been carefully collated with the original, which, in arrangement
and orthography, has been closely adhered to.
The Diary is, primarily and essentially, of local interest,
and the aim in view in editing it has been, by the addition of
notes and original illustrative matter, to make it of some value
as a contribution to the topographical literature of the part
of the country to which it refers.
At the same time, it is believed that the Diary possesses
features which should claim for it an interest beyond the
merely local or personal, inasmuch as it sets before us a vivid
representation of domestic manners and Church life and feeling
at a time comparatively near to us, and yet in many
respects widely divergent from what now usually prevails.
It abounds throughout in living human interest, and shows
not only a vigorous actor in the little world — a remote and
unique one — which lay around him, but also a keen observer
in the larger sphere of contemporary life and history of which,
as an educated and capable man, he was a warmly interested
The extracts from records and original documents given in
the Appendix are of various dates, but are all of strictly
local character, and it is conceived will add materially to the
historical and topographical interest of the volume.
The transcriptions and preparation for the press have been
the work of spare hours amid many pressing activities; and
this may to some extent explain, if it cannot excuse, imperfections
in the editing of which I am very sensible.
Acknowledgments are due to the Council of the Society
of Antiquaries of Scotland for woodcuts courteously put by
them at my disposal; and to Mr. Thomas Graves Law for
invaluable hints in the arrangement and preparation of the
G. G.
EDINBURGH, March 1, 1889.
INTRODUCTION, xxi-xcviii
DIARY OF REV. JOHN MILL — 1740-1803—
Demits charge at Cullen — Proceeds to Shetland —
Charge at Lerwick filled up — Returns south by a
vessel from Norway driven by contrary winds to
Shetland — Acts as assistant at Pitsligo in Aberdeenshire
for sixteen months — Promise of presentation
to a parish in Shetland obtained from the
Earl of Morton through the intervention of the
Earl of Findlater — His reluctance to accept the
offer on account of difficulties with a local heritor
who collected the tithes — Arrives in Shetland June
1742 — Settled April 1743 — Providential rescues
from sickness and drowning — Kirk in ruins and no
manse — Resides with the Laird of Quendale, and
Episcopalian and Jacobite, 1-4
Repeated illnesses and recoveries — Jacobite Rebellion —
Actions at Prestonpans and Falkirk — Culloden, 4-6
Appointed Commissioner to the General Assembly —
Preaches in the north of Scotland, and in Edinburgh
and Glasgow — Incident in the Tolbooth
Church, Edinburgh — Returns to Shetland, 6- 7
Sequestration of the estates of Sinclair of QuendaleDifficulty
in obtaining the tithes collected by him
— Kirk of Dunrossness never furnished with seats —
Manse built in 1751, furnished in 1752, and burnt
same year — Rebuilt by Mill at his own expense —
Another fire in the manse — Spiritual reflections
thereupon, 7-10
Visit to Fair Isle — Remarkable religious experience
there — Prepares last Will and Testament — Religious
condition of parish at his settlement — Subsequent
improvement — Young female convert — Profanity
followed by death, which regarded as a judgment, 10-14
Manse repaired — Matrimonial projects — Marriage —
Preaches at Leith and Edinburgh — Returns to
Shetland — Troubles with servants and neighbours
— Demoniacal possession of certain parishioners —
Interferes in a question of mortification of certain
land for behoof of widows — Intrigues against him
by a neighbouring heritor — Parochial court held by
Chief Magistrate ('Bailie'), 14-21
Death of first Wife — Case of Rev. Mr. Gilbert, minister
of Bressay — Providential deliverances of his
daughter Nell from accident — Popish practices
reprimanded — Fever in 1758 and subsequent years. 22-24
Small-pox — Severe weather — Loss of animals — Scarcity
— Unsuccessful fishing — Callousness of the people
— Dutch vessels stranded at Sandwick — Plundering
— Forty persons subjected to discipline of Kirk--
Session and Presbyterial rebuke, 24-25
Commissioner to General Assembly — Preaches at Peterhead,
Edinburgh, Newbattle — Hears and converses
with Whitfield — His character and teaching —
Apprehended shipwreck at Orkney on his return —
Blasphemy of the crew — Arrives at Lerwick —
Engaged in courtship at Edinburgh with a
'Knight's daughter' — She accepts another suitor
— Two others proposed (i.e. suggested) for his
hand, 25- 27
American-bound ship stranded at Sandwick — Providential
supply of timber, etc. — 'King's yacht'
wrecked at Fitful-head — Miraculous preservation
of captain and crew — Arrangement for labouring
half of his glebe, 27- 28
Commissioner to General Assembly — Labours for
redress for encroachments of lairds on the glebe
lands — for legal establishment of schools — Indifference
of Church authorities — His second
marriage — Sails from Leith to Shetland — Stonehaven
— Dunnottar Castle — Peterhead Bay —
Reaches Bressay Sound after a ten days' voyage, 28-30
1766- 1767.
Difficulties with Heritors and Presbytery re repair of
Sandwick Church — Preaches at Lerwick — Sacrament
at Dunrossness postponed — Sacrament regarded
by people as a charm to efface sins, 30-31
Visits Edinburgh as member of Assembly — Storm in
returning, which providentially abated — Encroachment
on glebe — Visit to Fair Isle — Catechising
and Sacrament, 31-32
Renewal of his 'Covenant Engagements' — Malignity
of brother clergymen — Further encroachment by
Laird of Sumburgh — Suicides, prompted by Enemy
of Souls — Loss of fishing-boat and two men — Stock
of cows providentially replaced — Work of grace in
the parish — Fall of (apparently) the Sinclairs of
Quendale, 33-37
Severe weather — Loss of cattle, sheep, and horses —
High price of meal — His wife's visit not appreciated
at Sumburgh — A providential design attributed to
a brilliant sun-reflection — His book on the Holy
Catholic Church,
Domestic supplies from Hamburg — Recovers his lost
horse — Providential supply of fodder for his
cattle — Late crop — Sacrament — Numerous shipwrecks
— Visits Fair Isle — Three boats with sixteen
men lost at Northmavine — These visitations little
regarded — Smuggled gin in Nesting Church, 39-41
Shipwreck at Sandwick — Danger in passage by sea
from Lerwick — Instances of piety — Beasts for
slaughter supplied by Providence — Breaking out of
the Rebellion in America — Lightning and thunder
— Smuggling — Conducts Sacrament at Sandwick
without assistance — Animal instinct — Catechises
parish — Falls from his horse twice — Gets liferent
tack of additional land, 42-45
Shipwrecks — Censorious parishioners — Smuggling —
American Rebellion condemned — A thief's house
struck with lightning and cattle killed — George
Tocher, Aberdeen merchant — War in Canada —
Examination of North Parish — Ship from Shetland
wrecked off Bremen, with loss of passengers —
Shipwrecks — Fast for the American Rebellion —
Interference of certain heritors — Progress of the
American war, 45-48
His 65th year — Reflections — Providence in his glebe
arrangements — Boy lost over cliffs at Sumburghhead
— A bodily ailment — A heresy-hunt baulked
— Pressgang commended — Sacrament — American
privateers on Shetland coast — Archangel ship in
Quendale Bay — Harvest — His daughter Nell
married, after clandestine courtship — A smuggler
trading on the coast — Arrival of household necessaries
from Hamburg — Accident to daughter of
Laird of Sumburgh, 48-53
Pious reflections — Case of drowning — Shipwrecks —
Public fast on account of American war — Vigorous
efforts for prosecuting same — Recruits from Shetland
— Illness of his wife — Supplies of meal, etc.,
sent from Scotland — Death from starvation in Fair
Isle — Moral delinquencies of proprietor there —
Harvest — War with France and America — One of
his horses rescued — Death of a bride, 53- 56
Catholic Emancipation opposed — Continued war with
France and America — General fast — Visit to Fair
Isle — Ministerial duties and discipline there;
State of Isle — Seizure of trading vessels by foreign
men-of-war — One of them recovered at Lerwick —
Shipwrecks — Crops good — Paul Jones — Whiteboys
in Ireland, 56- 59
Continuance of war with France and America — Shipwrecks
— Irish Free Trade — Apparent spiritual
awakening of his daughter Bell — Sacrament at
Sandwick — President of American Congress seized
on his way to Holland — Lord George Gordon —
Anti-Popish riots — Deaths of relatives — S.P.C.K.
schools in parish, 59-62
American spies in London — War proclaimed against
Holland — Hurricane and earthquake in West
Indies — General fast — Pestilence — Trial of Lord
George Gordon — Lerwick garrisoned — Local incidents
of the war on Shetland coast — Death of a
relative — Engagement off the Dogger Bank, 62-64
A comet — Shipwreck on St. Ringan's Isle — War in
America, Ceylon, Europe — Fast — Reported overtures
for peace from America — Epidemic of
influenza — Death of his sister, Mrs. Farquhar —
Loss of the Royal George — Lerwick garrison — A
pious sergeant, 65-68
War with France, Spain, Holland, and America — Siege
and defence of Gibraltar — Independence ceded to
American Provinces — Scarcity in Shetland — Visits
the South — Allotment of meal to Highlands and
Islands — Hairy comet — Threatened war with Irish
— Formosa submerged — Island rises from the sea
near Iceland — Globe of fire in the heavens —
Mysterious apparition at Edinburgh, 68-72.
His 73d year — Spiritual deadness among the people —
Arrival of ships with meal for public destitution —
Peace — Unsettled ministry His daughter's family
in poverty — A whale at Gulberwick — Harvest —
Threatened war between German Emperor and
the Dutch — Reflections, 72-74
Comets — Charitable supplies of meal from England
and Scotland — Harvest — Lunardi the balloonist at
Edinburgh — Wreck of Dutch East Indiaman — His
74th year — Balloon at Naples — Death of his son--
in-law, George Tocher — Good crop in Britain —
National Debt 300 millions — Heavy taxes —
Foreign squadron on Shetland coast — Wreck on
Foula, 75-78
Lerwick sloop driven to Norway — Thirty Greenland
ships at Shetland — Movement for new parish
church — His house property in Lerwick — Dutch
fishing fleet — Spiritual deadness — Kirk ruinous —
Forms of procedure in cases of discipline by
Kirk-Sessions — Anti-Patronage movement — Laxity
of the Shetland clergy — Loss of Greenland
whalers — Political commotion in Holland
Favourable harvest, 78-83
Centenary of his mother's birth — Proposed readjustment
of parishes — Great mortality at Edinburgh —
Death of Lord President Dundas of Arniston — Illness
of his wife — Shipwreck and great loss of life
— Wars between the German Emperor, Russia, and
the Turks — Losses of life at sea — Alliance
between Great Britain and Holland — British
Fisheries schemes — Wars; Sweden, Russia, Turkey
— Favourable harvest — Godlessness of Shetland
people — Thanksgiving for Revolution of 1688 —
Providence in the supply of 'marts,' 83-86
Reported death of George III. — His precentor imprisoned
at Edinburgh for forging a Will —
Dunrossness New Kirk agreed to be built —
Dr. Katerfelto's scientific discoveries — Convict
settlements in New South Wales, etc. — The kangaroo
— Australian aborigines — Favourable crops
— Changes in the Court of Session — Wars in
Europe — French Revolution — Reported establishment
of Popery in America, 86-90
Fall of stable roof, his seven horses rescued — European
wars — French National Assembly — New University
buildings at Edinburgh — Exertions for prosecution
of the war — New parish church of
Dunrossness — Minerals in Shetland — Mill's Report
on the Parish for Statistical Account of Scotland
— Improvement of Shetland wool, 90-93
European affairs — Imprisonment of King of France —
Sir John Sinclair and Shetland wool — Disaster to
fishing-boats — Arrival of Sir Thomas Dundas and
Duke of Gordon in quest of minerals in Shetland
— Home and Foreign news — American maple
sugar — War in India — Tippoo Saib — Movement
for abolition of slave-trade — The season and crop
— Seringapatam taken by Lord Cornwallis, 93-96
Tom Paine — Seditious movements in Britain and
counter demonstrations of loyalty — Execution
of the King of France, and progress of the war —
Embassy to China — Mill visits the Fair Isle —
General Board of Agriculture established — Expedition
of Duke of York to the Low Countries —
Queen of France beheaded, 96-99
Defeat of the French by Admiral Howe — Destruction
by French of Dutch fishing fleets off Shetland
and Iceland — Rescue by a Shetlander of a captured
Greenland whale - fishing ship — Similar
rescue of an English ship — Embassy to China
unsuccessful — Disputed settlement in Unst —
Destruction of Danton, Robespierre, and the
Jacobins — Seditious societies in London and
Edinburgh — Child - murder in Dunrossness —
Favourable crop — Shipwreck, 99-100
French invasion of Holland — Threatened invasion of
Great Britain — Prosecution of the war — Special
inducements offered to Shetlanders for enlistment
— Proceedings anent recent shipwreck — Virtues
of botanical syrup — Embargo on Stills — Defeat of
the French by Admirals Cornwallis and Bridport —
Sir Francis Kinloch shot by his brother — Murders
by negroes in St. Vincent and Granada — Marriage
of Prince of Wales — Indifferent crop in Shetland
— The King shot at, 101-104
His 85th year — Struck with apoplexy — Gradual recovery
— Success of the British in India, Ceylon,
etc. — Designs of the French — Statistics of British
naval and military armaments — Shipwrecks at
islands of Whalsey and Unst, 104-107
Missionary enterprise — Attempted invasion of Ireland
by the French — Victories of General Bonaparte
— Progress of the wars — General fast — Famous
medicines — French landing in Wales — Defeat of
the Pope's army — Victory off Cape St. Vincent —
Petitions by London and Edinburgh for conclusion
of Peace and dismissal of Pitt — Mutiny at the
Nore — Mill's petition, on behalf of missionaries, to
East India Company — Inequalities of Parliamentary
representation — Sacrament in Dunrossness —
Negotiations for peace — Victory off Camperdown —
Spiers of Elderslie renounces his patronage — State
of the heathen in Africa — Burning of widows in
Bengal, 107-113
Mill eighty-six years old — Threatened French invasion
of Great Britain — Voluntary subscriptions for prosecution
of the war — Fast — Death of his daughter
Bell — Prospects of the season — Irish Rebellion
crushed — Missionaries in the South Seas — Dutch
Greenland ships captured and brought to Shetland
— Shetland packet seized and carried to Norway —
Nelson's victory at Aboukir — Bonaparte's defeats
in Egypt, 113-116
Eighty-seven years old — Continuance of the war —
Voyages and death of Captain Cook — Defence of
St. Jean d'Acre — Visit to Shetland of James Alex.
Haldane and Rev. W. Innes, evangelical preachers, 116-119
Stormy weather — Shipwrecks at Shetland and elsewhere
— Statistics of British trade — Continuance
of the war — Mutineers — Bonaparte First Consul —
Union of Great Britain and Ireland — Yellow fever
in Spain — Reflections on the King as Head of the
Church, 119-121
European wars — His 90th year — Battle of Copenhagen
— Peace with Denmark — Victories over the
French in Egypt — Peace with France — He is
seized with illness in the pulpit — Story of Andrew
Melvill and King James, 121-123
His 91st year entered — Progress of missionary enterprise
— A converted Jew — The Pope and the Grand
Turk brought low — Copper-mining in Shetland
continued — Switzerland invaded by the French, 123-124
Recapitulation of Personal History — [The narrative
abruptly terminates — the remainder lost], 124-125
Continuation, from the Minutes of the Kirk-Session, till
February 10, I805 — His death on 13th February
1805, 125-129
I. Extracts from Kirk-Session Records of Dunrossness,
1764-1805, 131-145
II. Extracts from Records of the Presbytery of
Zetland anent the Glebe Lands of Dunrossness,
III. Account of the Parish of Dunrossness, 1793, by
the Rev. John Mill, 157-164
IV. List of Parish Ministers of Dunrossness, Sandwick,
and Cunningsburgh, 1567-1843, 165-167
V. Churches and Church Sites in Dunrossness,
Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh, with their
Dedications, 168
VI. Ecclesiastical Revenues of Dunrossness, Sandwick,
and Cunningsburgh, 1571-1888, 169-172
VII. Earl Rognvald and the Dunrossness Man. An
Unpublished Story of the Twelfth Century, 173-175
VIII. Feuds and Bloodshed in Dunrossness in the
Sixteenth Century, 176-177
IX. Minutes of Court held at Sumburgh, in Dunrossness,
1602, 178-189
X. Feu-Contracts between Patrick, Earl of Orkney,
and William Bruce of Symbister, 1592--
1605, 190-194
XI. Discharge, Patrick, Earl of Orkney, to Malcolm
Sinclair of Quendale, 1609, 195-196
XII. Diary and Baptismal and Marriage Register of
the Rev. John Hunter, Episcopal Clergyman
in Shetland, 1734-1745, 197-200
XIII. Early State of Education in Dunrossness, Sandwick,
and Cunningsburgh, 201-205
INDEX, 207
THE Rev. John Mill, author of the Diary, was an active and
zealous parish minister, and at the same time a man of
parts, and an industrious writer. In addition to the Diary, and
a Collection of 'Speeches,' or Addresses for Communion Seasons,
the Kirk-Session Minutes of his parish, for the long period of
nearly sixty years, were penned by him. These manuscript
productions have remained practically unknown. Equally so
a printed volume on The Holy Catholic Church delineated in her
Faith and Practice, etc., issued by him in 1773 under the veil
of anonymity, died in the course of time to public memory, and
the knowledge of it was only recovered by an accident. His
Account of the Parish of Dunrossness, in the old Statistical
Account of Scotland (1793), is almost as completely out of
view, buried in one of the numerous volumes of that great
Mill's writings possess an interest and value both from the
force of his own individuality, and from the nature of his life
and surroundings in the far-of northern isles where he lived
and laboured. It is the picture of life, manners, religion, in
the second half of last century, which he presents to the student
of history, that constitutes the claim of his Diary to appear in
this series of the Scottish History Society.
All that was hitherto known of Mill was gleaned by
Dr. Hew Scott, and recorded in the Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ,
Part v. p. 426, as follows: —
1743. JOHN MILL. Licensed by the Presbytery of Fordyce
14th November 1739; called to Dunrossness 19th October
1742, and ordained 27th April succeeding. In July
1799, when in his 88th year, he allowed the pious itinerant,
Captain Haldane, to preach in the church, and
after hearing sermon, warned his hearers to take heed
to the words they had heard, especially as this visit was
a new and unprecedented occurrence in their history.
Mr. Mill died 13th February 1805, in his 94th year,
and 62d of his ministry, the last survivor of the original
contributors to the Ministers' Widows' Fund at its commencement,
25th March 1744. He married, 2d October
1754, Anne, daughter of Mr. Young of Sandsting,
Aberdeenshire; she died at Prestonpans 29th June
1816. Publication — Account of the Parish (Sinclair's
Stat. Acc. vii.) [Presby. Reg.; Haldane's Memoir, etc.]
This account is defective, and to some extent erroneous, but
the means of amplification and rectification are now available
in the pages of the Diary, which was unknown to Dr. Scott.
Mill's parentage appears not to have been ascertained; and,
the earlier portion of the Diary having been lost, the facts can
only be gathered from casual references. He was born in
Shetland ('Lerwick, the place of my nativity' — Diary, 1753 —
where his father left some property, more than once referred
to). The last entry in the Diary, January 1, 1803, records
that he was born on February 23, 1712. His mother, as stated
in the entry for January 1788, was born 100 years earlier,
namely, in the Revolution year, 1688. The family consisted
of nine children, five sons and four daughters, whose histories
are briefly related in the entry of July 12, 1782.
Though it is nowhere so stated, there is now no doubt that
his father was the Rev. James Milne, first minister of Lerwick
after its disjunction from the parish of Tingwall in 1701. In
the Fasti the narrative regarding the father is as follows:—
1704. JAMES MILNE. Called in 1703, and ordained 6th
April 1704; died in February 1718, in the fourteenth
year of his ministry. He married, 2d January 1707,
Mrs. Isabel Bruce, who died 12th November 1771.
No particulars appear to have been gathered as to the ancestry
of this clergyman, but Mill in the Diary alludes more than
once to his own friends and connections settled in the north of
Scotland, in Aberdeen and Banffshire. Mrs. James Milne is
here stated to have died in November 1771, and Mill, writing
in the beginning of 1772 (see Diary), records that his mother
died 'in November this year,' which necessarily means the preceding
year, 1771. At Mill's ordination in 1743, the Rev. Mr.
Gray (of Nesting, ordained 1703), 'one of the oldest ministers
in the country,' remarked that 'my father was the first whose
head he had laid his hand on, as I would be the last' (Diary, 1753),
which also entirely corresponds. The author of the
Diary invariably signs 'Mill' but the two forms, Mill and
Milne, were at that time often used indifferently.1 The name
as used by the Diarist has since become famous in the person
of the historian of British India, and of his gifted son,
John Stuart Mill, who were of Forfarshire origin. I have
been unable to trace any connection between the families.
Dr. Scott in the Fasti is imperfectly informed as to Mill's
matrimonial history. He was not once, but twice married.
The marriage in 1754, which he notes, was not to Miss Young,
but to a Miss Thompson, whose acquaintance he made at
Edinburgh when Conjunct Commissioner that year to the
1 Thomas Gifford of Busta, in his private Diary, referred to in the printed
evidence in the Busta case in the Court of Session (1833-1835), records the baptism
of one of his children by 'Mr. James Mill of Lerwick,' in the year 1716.
This was our Mill's father.
General Assembly. She had two children, and died at Lerwick
in 1758 (Diary). On July 29, 1765, he was married for the
second time to Miss Ann Young, 'daughter to Mr. Robert
Young, portioner at the Water of Leith,' Edinburgh. She it
is who is mentioned as having died at Prestonpans, 1816. The
first wife had some means, and the portion of the second was
£200 sterling (Diary, 1780), a not inconsiderable fortune in
those days for persons in their position. There are quaint,
not to say ludicrous, passages in the successive courtships,
fully narrated in the Diary.
The elder daughter, Helen ('Nell'), was married to George
Tocher, 'Merchant in Aberdeen' (Diary, 20th November
1777), who died at New Byth in 1786, leaving her a widow
with one surviving child, a son seven years of age. She
survived her father, and, as 'Mrs. Tucker,' was his executrix
in 1805. It is not known whether any descendants now
remain.1 The second daughter, Bell, died unmarried in 1798.
The notice in the Fasti shows that Dr. Scott was unacquainted
with Mill's literary productions, with the single
exception of his statistical account of the parish, which indeed
is all that was known up to the present time.
It is not necessary here to dwell upon the details of Mill's
life. He was seven years schoolmaster at Cullen (Diary, 1753),
with the customary ambition in those days of stepping from
the schoolmaster's desk to the pulpit. He thereafter acted as
assistant to a minister at Pitsligo in Buchan for sixteen months.
From this appointment he received the presentation to Dunrossness,
Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh, in 1743, when about
thirty-one years of age, and in the charge of these parishes the
whole of his long life was spent, as is fully related, to near the
end, by his own pen in the Diary.
1 In the Diary, 1753, a cousin-german and a nephew 'who were my name--
sons,' are referred to.
A well-educated man, of vigorous intellect and strong purpose,
his powers and influence were always exerted on the side
of religion, truth, justice, as his best judgment and conscience
directed. Narrowness of view and harshness of dogma were
almost unavoidable in his time and place, and should be interpreted
rather as expressive of the spirit of the age in the circles
of the orthodox than as his own special characteristics. At
times he exhibits a breadth and a superiority to sect and
party prejudice that is as remarkable as it is praiseworthy.
His reputation for integrity and sanctity was high in his own
day, and still survives in memory in the district of country
over which his influence extended. He died in 1805, when
nearly completing his ninety-third year. Having apparently
no male representative, or near connections sufficiently interested,
no tombstone has been erected to mark his resting-place.
In the belief that Mill's Last Will and Testament, if it
existed, would be of especial interest, I searched the Sheriff and
Commissary Court books of Shetland at Lerwick, and the
Register of Wills in the General Register House, Edinburgh,
but without being able to find any such document. Half a
century before his death, viz., in 1753, a Will was made, as
related in the Diary, when his means were destined for distribution
in a variety of generous bequests, but this must have
been cancelled at a later date, when the claims of a wife and
family had to be considered.
The Inventory of the personal estate is recorded in the
books of the Commissary Clerk of Shetland at the instance of
his daughter, 'Mrs. Helen Tucker' ('Tocher' of the Diary), as
executrix; whether nominated by will, or appointed quâ next--
of-kin, is not stated, but the presumption seems rather in favour
of intestacy. The amount, upwards of £2000 sterling, was a
considerable realised fortune at the time (mostly invested in
heritable security in Scotland), especially in view of Mill's
generosity in life, his expenditure on the manse property, and
the smallness of the stipend (£44, 10s. sterling, in 1739;
£55, 11s. 3d. sterling, in 1793).1 The glebe was, however, a
valuable adjunct, and Mill's great age admitted of a prolonged
period of saving. Each of his wives also contributed to the
means of the family, and personal expenditure was not heavy.
Apart from the widespread belief in Mill's sanctity of
character, there was a general conviction, transmitted by tradition
to the present day, that he was familiar with Satan, with
whom he had many strange encounters in bodily shape, and
1 ACCOMPT of the Funds belonging to the Rev. Mr. JOHN MILL, Minister
of Dunrossness, at his death on 13th February 1805.
Bond by Mr. Stewart of Allantown and Mr. Trotter of Castlelaw,
£500 0 0
Do. by Mr. Ferguson of Pitfour, £500 0 0
Do. by the Earl of Strathmore, £600 0 0
£1600 0 0
Interest from 1st January to 13th February 1805, £9 8 5
Deduct tax, 0 9 5
8 19 0
£1608 19 0
Note by Mansfield, Ramsay, and Co., of 20th February
1803, £50 0 0
Interest at 4% to 13th February 1805, 3 19 2
53 19 2
Do. by Do. of 22d November 1804, £200 0 0
Interest at 4% to 13th February 1805, 2 0 11
202 0 11
Money found in the Repositories of the deceased, 84 13 0
Price of Stocking sold, and Arrears of Stipend paid to Mrs. Mill, 63 11 3
Balance in A/c due by Wm. Wilson, Writer, Edinburgh, 60 19 9½
Value of Furniture got possession of by Mrs. Mill, the relict, 30 0 0
Do. by Mrs. Tucker, daughter of the deceased, 30 0 0
Price of Furniture sold, £58 13 10
Deduct expenses, 18 14 2
39 19 7½
£2174 2 9
Affidavit of the same sworn to by Mrs. Helen Tucker, daughter, executrix
of her said father, at Edinburgh, 9th May 1806, before John Walker, J.P. there.
Recorded in the Commissary Court books at Lerwick, 23d June 1806.
[N.B. — Beside the above personal estate, there was some house property in
Lerwick inherited from his father, as mentioned in the Diary.]
over whom he had great influence and controlling power. It
would appear that Mill himself not only believed in the existence
of the malign personality, and in demoniacal possession,
but had conscious recognition of his own personal dealings with
the Arch-Enemy. See incidents in the Diary, 1754-55-56.
Satan was not in his eyes the majestic hero of Milton. On
the contrary, Mill seems to have regarded him with little
deference, and to have treated him with scant courtesy, as
when, on one occasion, he called the Fiend to his face 'a
damned rascal for his lying impudence.' This was in 1754,
when the medium of an interesting colloquy between them was
a possessed female. It is something to be able to record that
on these occasions Satan was not invariably a spirit of evil.
Once (in 1755) he manifested himself as a truly benevolent
demon — a woman possessed was saved from pains of parturition!
Not to multiply instances of intercourse with Satan, still, or
till recently, in the mouths of the people, the following story
related to me a number of years ago may be quoted. My
informant stated, in the native dialect, that his 'father and
grandmother and another person (whom he named) were
present in the Dunrossness Kirk when Satan came in. He
dared not come in at the west door facing east; but came in
at the east door, and took his place at the table [Communion
table]. Mr. Mill knew him, and began to speak in all the
deep languages, last of all it may be in the Gallic [Gaelic],1
and that beat him altogether. So he went off like a flock of
"doos" [pigeons] over the heads of the folk out at the west
door. Many of the people swooned.'2 This incident may
be supposed to have occurred in the ancient Cross Kirk, and it
may be remarked by the way that the perception here of what
is implied in the principle of orientation, which the narrator
1 The language used by Mill on these occasions is sometimes quoted as Latin,
sometimes Hebrew.
2 Thomas Shewan's tale. — G. G., July 1876.
was found pretty clearly to understand, is of some interest so
long after the close of the Catholic age in Shetland.
The more usual form in which the Enemy of Souls preferred
to appear at this time was that of literally a 'black
sheep.' In this way he often tried to lead or pursue persons
to destruction (suicide) — usually by throwing themselves over
the sea-cliffs. Mill, when near in such cases, was keen in
detecting the fiend. He invariably broke his spell, forced him
to a hasty retreat, and rescued the victim. This same power
has also been attributed to Mr. Hugens,1 one of Mill's predecessors
Mill, indeed, had little fear of either man or demon. His
whole life was a stand-up fight. The devil, the local heritors,
the brethren of the Presbytery, parishioners, and servants, were
all objects of antagonism, and at times of very spirited malediction.
The malignity, laxity, and want of sympathy of the
clergy was a source of constant bitterness; and on one occasion
he felt it his duty to embark on a heresy hunt (1777), which
only fell through by the perjury, as he regarded it, of certain
clerical witnesses whose zeal for orthodoxy was not equal to
No portrait of Mill is known to exist. The only description
of him now obtainable has been given to me by my
venerable father, ninety-three years of age. It is only the
recollection of a child of seven years (in 1804), but may be
quoted as the testimony of, doubtless, the only person now
living whose eyes have beheld him.
He seemed to be upwards of eighty years of age. He was
tall, slender, straight, and healthy-looking. Hair still dark.
Dressed in knee-breeches and black silk stockings. Wore a
broad-brimmed cocked hat. His manner of addressing the
1 Walter Hugens, A.M. Translated to the parish of Sandsting and Aithsting,
1733. He had a family of fourteen sons and six daughters.
people was direct and uncompromising — "Ye sinners of
Cunningsburgh," etc. He had a fine sonorous voice. I
remember, when about nine years of age, hearing an elder
of the church tell the story that when he was inducting
the Rev. David Thomson he said to him, "O Davie, Davie,
it were more meet to mak you a soldier than a minister."'1
The late Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh informed me that when
Mill was urged by his friends to seek an augmentation of his
stipend of £50 per annum, he replied, 'Hoot, man, I have more
than I deserve.'2
These references to Mill personally may be closed by the
following apt reminiscences. The first was contributed to the
Shetland Times (October 1, 1887) by R. M., son of an old
native of Dunrossness, who says: —
'Mr. Mill seems to have been a man of considerable attainments,
but very homely in his attire and manner, and of great
kindliness of heart. If he had one penny in his possession, it
would go to the first needy person he met. In later life he
was persecuted by his brother ministers on account of his friendship
for the itinerant evangelist, Captain Haldane, and especially
for allowing him to preach in his church. Like many good
men of his time, he had a firm belief in the personality of the
devil, and of his active hostility to, and interference with, good
works. He was often heard talking aloud with his (to others)
unseen foe, but those who heard him declared that he spoke in
an unknown tongue, presumably Hebrew. After one of these
encounters, the worthy man was heard muttering, "Well, let
him do his worst; the wind aye in my face will not hurt me." 3
1 The Rev. David Thomson was inducted to the parish of Walls and Sandness
in 1787.
2 Letter dated 22d March 1880.
3 This was in response to a threat of the devil, that wherever he, Mill, went,
he, Satan, should be a blowing 'wind in his teeth,' in consequence of which Mill
was unable ever after to get passage out of Shetland.
At one time Mr. Mill preached strongly against over-indulgence
in eating and drinking, and thereupon he made an attempt to
strengthen his doctrine by living upon water alone. He carried
this on until one day he fainted in the pulpit, and was thought
to be dead.1 On regaining consciousness he rebuked the people
for making such a great outcry, reminding them that there was
greater cause for crying that day in a certain place they wot
of. Regarding his fasting, it is told that on one occasion he
was to preach at Tingwall. The day before he duly took his
"pig" of water, and walked up to Lerwick [a distance of sixteen
or eighteen miles by footpaths], to sleep all night in the house
of a friend. Next morning he was up right early to walk out
to Tingwall, and was leaving without any breakfast. His host,
however, placed his back against the door, and swore he should
not leave till he ate and drank. On his return to his friend in
the evening, he confessed that his "cursed" meat and drink had
done him no ill. Another tradition refers to the burning of
the manse of Skelberry. The minister and his wife shut up
the house on Saturday, to spend the night and Sunday with
Mr. Sinclair of Quendale. While the services were being performed
[in the Cross Kirk near by], a messenger arrived at the
church with word that the manse was burning, and the officer
mounted the pulpit steps and delivered the news to the
preacher, who said, "Hoot, man! let it burn. It's either fire
from heaven, or an enemy has done it."2
These stories are thoroughly characteristic, and have every
appearance of truthfulness. The narrator, R. M., heard them
and many others suchlike from his father, who was probably
living near Mill's day. The story of the burning of the manse,
in 1751, is well preserved, after a lapse of nearly 140 years.
1 See Diary, 1801.
2 See the account of the burning of the manse, Diary, 1751. The cost of
rebuilding it, and the offices, etc., was upwards of £200 sterling, paid by himself.
The next is from an old lady, deceased, who was in her
twelfth year when Mill died. It is communicated to me by
her son:—
It was customary for Mr. Mill to mount the pulpit with
his cocked hat tied under his chin, and a bunch of flowers in
his hand. He had a daughter, a Mrs. Tucker, who was long
a member of the Tabernacle congregation, Edinburgh.1 Once
the precentor gave out: "Prayer is requested for George
Shewan o' the Myres, who is dangerously ill." The minister
leaned over the pulpit, and enunciated deliberately: "George
— Shewan — o' — the — Myres ill! Why, I saw him hale and
weel on Thursday; more meet we pray for Thomas Smith o'
Boddam." He usually went through the parish mounted on
a native pony, with Hector, his man, following. On one
occasion a little black dog kept in their wake, and raised
sundry doubts and fears in Hector's mind. The venerable
octogenarian said, "Tuts, man, du needna fear; it's me he
wants, no dee" (i.e. it is me he — the Devil — wants, not
Passing from personal reminiscences, Mill's writings deserve
to be briefly noticed. These are:—
1. The Diary. MS.
2. His printed work on 'The Holy Catholic Church.'
3. Account of the Parish of Dunrossness (Stat. Acc.), etc.
4. Speeches delivered at the Lord's Table, etc. MS.
1. THE DIARY. — This is a small quarto volume, not quite
uniform in size, but as near as may be 7½ inches in length by
1 This was the church (Baptist) of which Mr. James Alexander Haldane,
her father's friend, was pastor.
2 Memorandum from James Catton Goudy, London, Feb. 1885. This story
of the devil in the shape of a black dog is oft repeated.
6 inches in breadth. The beginning, relating the earlier part
of his life up to 1738, is lost; after this there is an unbroken
narrative on 59 leaves, written on both sides, or 118 pages,
ending abruptly in the entry of 1st January 1803, some leaves
at the end, as at the beginning, being lost. The handwriting
is clear, neat, vigorous, to the end. It is understood to have
been in the possession of the Sumburgh family since Mill's
decease, and is now printed for the first time.
The work, strictly speaking, is not a 'Diary,' that is, a
record inscribed from day to day. It is a narrative generally
descriptive of the occurrences of the day, but for the first thirty
years it is retrospective. It is usually concerned with local
and personal affairs, but is also at times largely occupied with
the review of public life and national events at home and
abroad. The title assumed for it is, however, the most simple
and convenient, and it has the sanction of precedent in some
well-known instances of autobiographic memoirs.
In the Diary there is no lack of heart-searching and
faithful dealing with himself; but in the main it may be said
that his tone of mind and whole life are vigorously objective.
He is a practical man, living in the present, and the past has
no charm or romance for him. His memory and information
might have brought us back to immediately post-Covenanting
times and the heartburnings of the Revolution Settlement.
But while we regret that he, with so much knowledge, is
almost absolutely silent as to the past, we may have the
assurance that he is all the more a faithful exponent of the
facts and feelings of his own day, which should make the work
all the more intrinsically valuable as a record of eighteenth--
century life and history.
It is not necessary here to enter into any detailed notice
or criticism of the Diary, which is before the reader verbatim,
and, as nearly as may be, literatim. A few of its more prominent
features need only be referred to.
As already mentioned, the loss of the introductory portion
has deprived us of the account of his family, his birth, education,
and early history, which must have been there recorded.
The narrative is entire from shortly before his appointment
to the parish in 1742, with the loss of a single leaf in 1771.
It is nowhere stated that it is intended for publication, but
Mill's literary instincts, and the fact of his having published
a work of merit, make it more than probable that its being
submitted to the public eye, either in his lifetime or afterwards,
was in his mind. The careful revision of the text,
and the amendment or deletion of passages that might be
open to objection, are indications in favour of this supposition.

Up to 1770 the Diary seems to be personal history in
retrospect; it then becomes a continuous record, steadily
kept up at convenient intervals, embracing the whole current
of his private life and the working of the ecclesiastical
machinery in the parish, with a spirited sketch, enlarging as
the narrative advances, of contemporary public events.
The story of his life in Shetland opens under circumstances
of some dejection. The leading families in the district were
disaffected, if not hostile, to him, to his Church, and even to
the Government. The Revolution Settlement had left most
of them attached to the Episcopal communion, as is distinctly
brought out in the Visitation Registers of Hunter, the last
minister of that persuasion, from which extracts are given in
the APPENDIX. The state of religion and morals in the parish
was also unsatisfactory. The kirk was in ruins, and, until a
new manse could be built, he had to content himself with
residing in the house of a Jacobite laird, Sinclair of Quendale,
to whom he had a marked aversion.
The erection of a manse, which was burnt in 1752, and
rebuilt, engaged his early attention. The church not only
required to be renewed, hut it was even destitute of Communion
cups, which, with other causes, prevented the observance
of the Sacrament for a period of six years after his
ordination. It is not said by whom, or in what manner, the
cups were at last provided. Four are now, however, in use,
and they are thus described by the Rev. William Brand, the
present minister: —
"The cups are two and two alike, and all very similar;
only two are slightly higher and narrower than the other two.
The lower and wider ones are without any lines round the
rim, which is just a very little turned out. The other two
have an incised line immediately below the turn out of the
rim; then immediately below that, two lines quite close to
each other; and about a quarter of an inch further down, other
two quite close, and all very small. On these two cups there
are on the bottom the letters A.B.M.S.'
By the courtesy of the Rev. Thomas Burns, author of the
valuable work, Old Scottish Communion Plate, now in the
press, I am enabled to give drawings, by Mr. Alexander J. S.
Brook, of two of these cups, which are of silver. That ornamented
with incised lines bears the hall-mark of the city of
Hamburg, but the date cannot be fixed. It is also difficult to
say what the letters A.B.M.S. represent. The other cup is
stamped with the name-punch of James Welsh, who was admitted
to the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of Edinburgh in 1746.
Mr. Brand adds that there are two very large black pewter--
like plates, unfit for use, lying past as lumber and a baptismal
basin, also quite useless. The two large (probably
collecting) plates are doubtless of the old customary Nuremberg
make and pattern.
The Communion cups in use at the Church of Sandwick, as
I am informed by the Rev. C. Nairne Baldie there, bear the
date '1854.'
The old parish church, the Cross Kirk of Dunrossness
long in a decaying state, was allowed to go to ruin; and, after
prolonged contention with the heritors, the present church was
erected about fifty years after Mill entered upon the charge
(1790-1791). Encroachments upon the glebe by neighbouring
proprietors were also cause of continuous irritation, as entries
in the Diary, and especially the extracts in the APPENDIX from
the Records of the Presbytery, abundantly show.
Mill's career having been spent almost entirely in the
district of which he had the spiritual oversight, the Diary
discloses little of personal incident or variety of experience of
very striking kind, beyond what was usual and natural in the
circumstances of the time and place. His whole life and
energies were devoted to the wellbeing of the people and the
advancement of genuine religion among them. The 'Renewal'
of his 'Covenant Engagements,' 1770, and the reflections
on the recurrence of successive birthdays and on other
occasions, exhibit a devout consecration to the high aims
which were ever before him. In the denunciation of sinners
and backsliders, constantly recorded in the Diary, he seems
almost to wear the garb and to wield the pen of a Hebrew
prophet; in his efforts at self-mortification and conflicts with
Satan he reminds us of a saint of the middle ages; while his
hatred of Popery, Prelacy, and all systems of supposed abounding
error, bears the flavour of a stern and zealous Covenanter.
These characters interblended, combined with the worldly
astuteness of a modern business man, go to make up the
personality of our author as he appears before us in the pages
of the Diary and in his other writings.
His pastoral duties at home were varied only by occasionally
officiating in other parishes, and by visits to the south as
Commissioner to the General Assembly. These visits must
have been regarded as formidable undertakings, usually occupying
six days or more either way, and beset with risks of
shipwreck, of capture by the enemy, or of disaster in other
forms. It was often the course, on such occasions, even within
the present century, to land at Peterhead on the way south,
and pursue the journey to Edinburgh by road.
Communication between Shetland and Scottish ports was
at this time unfrequent and uncertain. Cured fish was
exported mostly to Germany, and, strange as it may seem,
domestic supplies were for the most part received directly from
Hamburg (see Diary, 1773 and passim). The news of public
events in the same way often reached Shetland by long and
circuitous routes. The battle of Saratoga, fought in October
1777, was only known to Mill in February 1778, and in 1790 his
supply of newspapers for six months reached him at one time.
Allusion has already been made to Mill's encounters with
the devil, and to demoniacal possession as fully believed in.
In the same way, the Divine judgment following upon blasphemy
or other offences was regarded as the simple and
natural consequence; indeed, those who crossed the minister
in any unbecoming way seldom escaped Divine retribution.
Mill was a keen supporter of the Government. The
Jacobites and the exiled Stuart family he held in abhorrence.
The disloyal, the Irish rebels, the mutineers in the navy, and
the rebellious American colonists, are all reprobated in the
Diary. The pressgang, enforcing recruits for the navy, he commended,
though the people regarded it with aversion and fear.
The Diary abounds with sad tales of the sea. Ever and
anon disastrous shipwrecks are recorded on those pitiless rock--
bound shores; and indications of the propensity, on the
part of natives, to share in the spoils of the deep on such
occasions are not wanting. Disasters to fishing-boats with
loss of life, are also of frequent occurrence, than as now.
Smuggling, which was extensively engaged in, was under
the ban of the Church; but a tasting of duty-free gin seems
not to have been despised even by ecclesiastics. On one occasion
recorded in the Diary (1753) the offence was not
partaking of a 'dram,' but in doing so without asking the
Divine blessing upon it!
The movement for Catholic Emancipation in 1779 encountered,
as is well known, a bigoted opposition everywhere;
and in Shetland the rejection of this measure seems to have
given satisfaction. 'Black Popery,' as conformity to Catholic
usages was termed, was repugnant to the Diarist, and his
anathemas against the system are unsparing. The scheme for
sending missionaries to 'the heathen,' which has since been
developed into powerful denominational organisations, was in
its infancy towards the close of the century, and glimpses are
given of the earliest efforts of its promoters.
So early as in 1785 a movement appears to have been
started in Scotland in opposition to the Patronage system,
which however was not abolished for nearly a century later. To
this movement Mill gave his hearty concurrence, though, in his
earlier days, he was not averse to using influence, on his own
behalf, with my Lords Findlater and Morton, in respect of any
suitable living that might turn up.
The state of Education in the islands, as in remote places
generally, must have been very backward. Details as to this
are given under the proper head.
Dancing was regarded as a carnal pleasure, but his eldest
daughter Nell, before being placed at school at Edinburgh to
'learn to make her own cloaths and see more of the world,'
had been instructed in Shetland in such accomplishments as
were useful to a gentlewoman, namely, 'sewing and working
of stockings, writing, arithmetic, dancing, church music, etc.'
(Diary, 1768).
The Diary records a curious survival of the old Scandinavian
form of local judicature into the second half of last
century. Originally, in Shetland, as in Norway, every district
or parish had its court, presided over by the parish Foud
(Norse, Foged). Under the Stewart Earls a violent and too
successful effort was made to overthrow local institutions and
to assimilate everything to Scottish forms. In this way, in
the preceding century, the 'Fouds of ilk parochin and yle'
were gradually superseded by a functionary bearing the Scottish
name of 'Bailie,' and in the course of time the parochial
courts fell into abeyance. That however of Dunrossness
lingered long, and the Court-book of the parish, 1731-1735,
Alexander Sinclair of Brew, Bailie, is preserved in the Sheriff
Court at Lerwick.1 So late as in 1756 Mill refers to a court
held at Dunrossness by this same Alexander Sinclair as the
magistrate.' What appears to be a circuit, rather than a
local, court is also held in the district at the time by Sir
Andrew Mitchell (of Westshore, Bart.).
The narrative is all through a little mixed. Anti-climaxes,
descents from the sublime to the ridiculous in the same breath,
are of frequent occurrence. For instance, in 1797, after descanting
at large on the progress of the war with the French and
Dutch, he (on the same line in the MS.) proceeds to relate the
virtues of 'Lignum's Anti-Scorbutic Drops' and 'Brodum's
Restorative Nervous Cordial.' Indeed, even at the most
solemn moments, there is a quaintness, an unconscious humour,
all his own, that is delicious.
When we turn from the local and personal we find his
accounts of public events clear and of telling interest. Many
incidents, not to be found in ordinary historical books, are
carefully chronicled, and the facts of contemporary history are
shown, not as they present themselves to us at this distance of
time, but as they shaped themselves in the public eye at the
moment. He witnessed the rising of 1745, the revolt of the
Colonies, the consolidation of our power in India, the outburst
of the French Revolution, and the beginning of the great drama
which followed, with Napoleon Bonaparte coming to the front as
the leading figure. The bearing of all this upon British interests
was fully impressed upon Mill's mind; and Shetlanders, far off
1 See Paper by Sheriff Thorns, Proceedings S.A. Scot., vol. xvi. p. 157.
as they were, were by no means indifferent spectators. The
islands participated directly in the events and consequences of
the war. Many Shetland sailors, voluntary or impressed, were
in the service, a good deal of money was circulated in the
islands in connection with naval and military preparations, and
brilliant captures and recaptures were made on the coast,
sometimes by natives. (See Diary, 1779-1794.)
Remarkable indications are given of public-spirited efforts
for maintaining the war. Even in a poor country like Shetland,
voluntary contributions were made, Mill himself, with
other parishioners, having subscribed a sum of ten guineas
yearly while the war should last (Diary, 1798).
His bodily vigour and assiduous attention to duty continued
until he was far advanced in life. In 1793, when in his
eighty-second year, he visited the Fair Isle, twenty-five miles
distant, in an open boat. Here he remained two weeks,
preaching, catechising, baptizing children, and exercising the
discipline of the Church.
In April 1796, when eighty-four years of age, the first
unmistakable signal of failing powers was given, when he was
struck with apoplexy, which unfitted him for five months for
public duty. Again, in 1801, he was suddenly seized with a
fit of weakness, and fell down in the pulpit, but recovered.
In 1803 the Diary abruptly terminates, with the entry of
January 1st, by the loss of the closing pages. How long it
may have been continued thereafter it is now impossible
to say. The Kirk-Session Minutes were penned, for most
part, by him up to 3d February 1805, when the pen literally
dropped from his hand. The date of the following Sunday,
February 10, had been inserted in anticipation, but when the
day arrived he was unfit to pen its record, and death, long
delayed, came at last and relieved him from his labours on the
13th of that month.1 Having been born on February 23d,
1 In the Notes at pp. 125, 129, the death is stated erroneously to have
occurred on the 15th of the month, instead of on the 13th.
1712, he was thus within ten days of completing his ninety--
third year.
It is difficult to say, in perusing the Diary, whether we
are more impressed with the earnestness and moral stature of
the man, or with the transparent truthfulness and candour
of the record.
2. THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH, etc.; Edinburgh, 1773. —
More than a dozen. years ago I was endeavouring to elicit items
of olden-time story from a weak-witted, but withal well--
informed, parishioner of Dunrossness, in the course of which
he alluded to 'Mr. Mill's book' as a printed work of which he
was the author. I was incredulous; but when he afterwards
brought to me a worn and soot-stained fragment, consisting of
140 pages, which he insisted was the veritable volume, I took
it from him for a consideration. That this old country minister,
in an out-of-the-way district, had appeared in the arena of
letters as the author of a theological work in the last century,
seemed a delusion, a fiction of tradition imposed upon an ignorant
native. But in going over the Diary some years later, I
found, to my amazement, the author's account of his printing
at Edinburgh, in 1773, a volume on The Holy Catholic Church,
more than once afterwards referred to. This led me to search
in the University, the Advocates', and other public Libraries,
but no trace of Mill's name as an author was to be found in
the Catalogues of any of those collections. The quest was
almost given up as hopeless; but some time afterwards a consultation
with Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh ensued; and, though
the work was altogether unknown in his family, or to the
oldest parishioners, he inserted an advertisement in the Shetland
papers, which resulted in his obtaining from Mr. James
Irvine, schoolmaster of Nesting, and forwarding to me, an
anonymous work on The Holy Catholic Church. It bore the
required date, 1773, and proved, on comparison, to be the
Completed counterpart of the fragment in my possession. The
mystery was now solved — the book had been issued anonymously.
Its full title is as follows: —
It is not quite consonant to the purpose of the present
work to give a detailed account of this book. But it may be
explained that it is an octavo volume of 341 pages, containing
an entire system of Divinity, a summary of Christian faith,
duty, and practice, in public, social, and domestic life; with
forms of prayer, and portions of hymns, or suitable pieces of
poetry, interspersed with the text in every chapter. He admits
that 'there is little of the author's' in this poetry, most of it
being compiled from Watts, Young, Milton, and Blair, and it
is therefore difficult to form an opinion of his powers of metrical
composition. But the work itself seems to be of much more
than ordinary merit, though its tone is somewhat gloomy and
severe, and its dogmatic asseverations at times worthy of St.
Chapter lii., 'Of Hell, or the Everlasting Torments of
damned Sinners,' presents a picture of endless woe drawn with
great vigour, and appallingly realistic in form and colouring.
In Chapter xlv. his doctrine on the subject is trenchantly summarised
in a few words:—
'As the tree falls it must lie. Thus all, whether high
or low, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, Jews or Gentiles,
Papists or Protestants, must in a little time be eternally saved
or damned, — triumph for ever in heaven, or fry for evermore
in hell,' etc. (p. 225).
Mill was an earnest loyalist, hating the Stuarts, the Jacobitism
of his day, Popery and Episcopacy, and his views on these
matters come out incidentally in Chapter xlviii., on 'Persecution
for Conscience Sake.' The 'bloody race of Stewart, being
Papists,' got their just deserts. Mary, 'a woman of a proud
and crafty wit, and an indurated heart against God and His
truth, insisted in the same steps of tyranny and treachery (but
with greater aggravation) that her mother walked in, and was
served according to her desert. For after that her darling
Davie Rizio, the Italian fiddler (whom most men then supposed,
and do still suspect, to be the father of James VI.), received
his due reward in her presence … she never rested till she
and Bothwell contrived the murder of Darnley; and then she
married the murdering adulterer, the said Earl of Bothwell
… and afterwards she was beheaded by Elizabeth,
Queen of England.' Then follow the sufferings of the
Covenanting era, graphically described, but no word of pity
or sympathy for the hapless Mary, or any not of his way of
While denouncing persecution, his own tendency is to
vigorous denunciation of other forms of religious thought. He
was as yet no disciple of the doctrine of Toleration, which had
been enunciated by Locke a considerable time before this, as
witness his somewhat bitter attack on Sandeman, the founder
of the sect of the Sandemanians, pp. 267 et seq. But before
the close of his life his sympathies and sentiments were greatly
broadened, and his hearty reception of Captain Haldane and
the Rev. William Innes, the well-known evangelical preachers,
when not only the ministers of Shetland, but the whole Church
of Scotland, were bitterly hostile to them, should ever he
remembered to his credit.
Apart from questions of creed and forms of thought not
quite in harmony with modern phases, though distinctly
characteristic of his own age, there is much to admire in this
truly remarkable work, as a faithful and vigorous exposition of
the theology and highest religious principle of the day. Pity
it is that the only complete copy of it known, at any rate in
recognised association with the author's name, is the accidentally
acquired one in my possession.
It has been stated that the book, though full of religious
poetry introduced at suitable places in the text, affords no
certain evidence of the author's powers of versification. Here
however is an undoubted example, a tribute to the memory
of his first wife, inscribed on a page of the MS. volume,
'Speeches delivered at the Lord's Table,' to be afterwards
(Elizabeth Thompson, 3rd Daughter of Baillie Thompson,
Edinburgh), who died February 9th 1758.
In her was Christ the hope of Glory form'd
And Love to Jesus all her Bosom warm'd
Fair as the Morn, her bright Example shone
It's force attractive as the Magnet Stone
In each Relation of her Mortal Life
The Duteous Daughter and the Lovly wife
The tender Mother and the Mistress kind
The obliging Neighbour and the stedfast Friend
To Social Graces all her soul was turn'd
And Social Actions all her life adorn'd
If humble Souls and Souls of heart Contrite
If patient Souls and Souls to Christ unite
If souls that follow peace and Sanctity
If souls that Mercy love and Charity
If such Dear Souls commence Eternal Rest
When loos'd from Flesh, then hers is ever blest.
Sic mihi contingat vivere, sic mori.
valuable contribution from Mill's pen to the topographical
literature of the district. It is of importance to the present
volume, as affording a contemporaneous description, carefully
and accurately done, of the place where the scene is laid, besides
completing the view of the Diarist's works. It has
been thought well for these reasons to include it among the
papers in the Appendix, although it is already in print,
in vol. vii. of the old Statistical Account of Scotland by
Sir John Sinclair, Bart., 1793, in which it is lost to sight,
practically unknown. It is stated in the Diary that the
queries were received from Sir John in September, and that
the Account in reply was forwarded to hint in October 1790.
It is curious that he states in it that the new church was
built 'a few years ago.' In point of fact the foundations
were only marked off 2d June of that year, and the church
itself was not opened until the following year, 1791. There
may however have been subsequent revision, as the volume
did not appear till 1793.
Mill, unconscious of the charm which venerable objects
of antiquity impart to a district, omits, in the Account,
and in his other writings, all reference to the local antiquities,
Most prominent of these are the BROUGHS, or circular towers
of the Picts, of which so many remains were around him,
and which cannot be passed without notice in any description
of the district. The Castle of Mousa, in his northern parish,
Sandwick, is the most perfect example in existence of this
class of structure, and one of the most ancient and most
interesting architectural remains in Great Britain.
The other ruined Broughs in the 'Ministry' of Dunrossness,
Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh may be enumerated, thus:—
At Aith (?) in Cunningsburgh.
„ Burraland „ Sandwick.
„ Levenwick „ Do.
„ Clumlie „ Dunrossness.
„ Scousburgh „ Do.
„ Lunabister „ Do.
„ Waterbrough „ Do.
„ The Brough „ Do.
„ Voe „ Do.
„ Broken Brough „ Do.
„ East Shore „ Do.
The Brough of Mousa was cleared out and carefully
overhauled nearly thirty years ago. It is fully described by
Sir Henry Dryden, Bart., in the Archæologia Scotica, vol. v.
Part I., where plans and sections are given showing the
remarkable arrangement of staircase and galleries intersecting
the main wall, which are the specially characteristic features
of Brough buildings. The only external aperture is the
entrance, 5 ft. 3 in. high, by 2 ft. 11 in. wide, on the ground--
level, on the side opposite to that shown in the sketch, which
is reproduced for this volume, from a photograph.
Brough of Levenwick — Ground Plan.
None of the other Broughs in the district, except those at
Levenwick and Clumlie, have been touched by the explorer.
The excavation of the former was the work of successive
holiday seasons1; the latter, hidden in a grass-grown mound,
was brought to light only last year.2
1 Brough of Levenwick. Paper by the Editor, Proceedings of the Society
of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. ix. (1871), p. 212. a, b, c, openings to inner
court; d, fireplace; e, f, entrance passage through main wall; g, triangular
space in front of staircase; h, stair to first gallery; k, termination of first gallery;
l, window looking into interior court; m, stair to second gallery.
2 Brough of Clumlie. Paper by the Editor, Proceedings of the Society of
Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. xxiii. (1888-1889).
These Brough remains are not only, as has been remarked,
the most prominent of the local objects of antiquity, but they
are deeply impressive memorials of a prehistoric art and civilisation
in these regions, of which we know but little otherwise.
The ecclesiastical antiquities of the district show but
scant remains. They are referred to under a subsequent head
— 'Churches and Church Sites in Dunrossness, etc., with their
The circumstances, generally, of the parishes at the
time when Mill's Account was written (1790) are so fully
and distinctly set down by him as to require no further
There is one feature to which it is proper to refer before
concluding this notice of the descriptive Account of the
parishes, viz., the Place-Names, especially the minor designations,
several of which occur in the Diary.
The major place-names, those of villages, hills, lochs, watercourses,
are necessarily all more or less stereotyped, and not
easily eradicated. But apart from these, every knoll or hillock,
every patch of waste or cultivated ground, every enclosure,
every standing stone, every rock, creek, cave, or crevice by
the sea-shore, bore its own descriptive name, almost always
in expressive Norse.
As the old village settlements remained with little change
from age to age, this minor nomenclature was preserved from
generation to generation down from Scandinavian times.
But with the gradual breaking up of village communities
by the discontinuance of the run-rig system of cultivation,
and the formation, instead, of separate detached holdings
with changing occupiers, the old continuity of life and feeling
and local knowledge has been greatly impaired; and in this
way the minor names are rapidly disappearing, as they have
already almost entirely disappeared in most of the mainland
districts of Scotland.
The preservation, therefore, of as many as possible of those
descriptive names of olden time is of importance; and an
effort with that view was made a number of years ago, which
resulted in the compilation of a large, but still necessarily
incomplete, list of the place-names in each of the three parishes,
besides Fair Isle and other places. Since then, the completion
of the Ordnance Survey maps, on the large scale, has proved
an important step towards the preservation of these names,
especially those along the coast, and has made it less necessary
to introduce such a list here. The minor names in one
small district will serve as an illustration of the usually
minutely descriptive character of these names in the older
neighbourhoods; to attempt an enlargement of the list, so
as to embrace even one of the parishes, would require a treatise
by itself.
Name. Probable Old Norse form. Meaning.
Virdifell Vördu-fjall Ward-hill.
Helliberg Hellu-bjerg Flat rock (by the sea).
Trimihew Thrym-haugr Stone of noise (do.).
Kamer Kammer A room, chamber (do.).
Trubleton Troll-böl-tún Haunt of the fairies.
Lingard Ling-gardr Heather farm.
Hwy yard Hvi gardr Enclosed yard.
Finglirty yard Fönguleigr-teigr--
gardr The yard in good condition,
Bugardsty yard Bu-gards-teigr--
gardr Town yard.
Krintop Kring-topt Round-about toft.
North Lays Nord leigur North slopes.
Name. Probable Old Norse form. Meaning.
Nether Gairds Nedr-gardr Lower field.
Breiddal Breid-dalr Broad dale.
Mogidal Miovi-dalr (?) Narrow dale.
Runtie-gate Hraun teigr gata Rough-place road.
Trottaknowe ? ?
Fjalsas Fjalls-áss Hill-side.
Hoolan-haigree (A knoll on the east side of Hallalee, demolished
by the formation of the public
road about 1850).
Ramnagio Ramnagiá Gio (or creek) of rams.
Murigarth Myri-gardr Moory town.
Yaback Hjá-bakki High bank or ditch.
Stoorishon Stori-shon Big pool (near house
of Braefield, now
Fits Fitjar Ground at margin of
Vills Vellir Fields.
Natshag Nauts-hagi Cattle-pasture.
Markidal Merkju-dal Merkdale.
Tarridal Therri-dal Dry dale.
Stigadie ? ?
Rings Heidr-engjar (?) Outfield heath.
Smerrilee ? ?
It only remains to add that the three parishes which
united formed the 'Ministry' of Dunrossness, Sandwick, and
Cunningsburgh, under Mill's charge, are the larger portion of
the southern promontory of the mainland of Shetland. The
extent from Quarff on the north to Sumburgh Head, the extreme
point to the south, is about 16½ miles in length, with
an average breadth of 2½ to 3 miles, at certain points less
or more. Cunningsburgh is the northmost of the three
parishes, and Dunrossness the most southerly, Sandwick lying
between. Fair Isle, midway between Orkney and Shetland,
25 miles distant from either group, is also included in the
Ministry. It is upwards of 3 miles in length, and nearly
2 miles broad.
The population at last census is quoted as:—
Dunrossness, 1818
Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, 2308
Fair Isle, 214
For the better understanding of the district, in illustration
of the Diary and of the Account of the Parish, the reader is
referred to the copy of the Ordnance Survey map reproduced
for this volume.
This, the last of Mill's literary relics, is a small manuscript
volume, containing twenty-four 'Speeches,' with a few
'Addresses' of a less special character. It is explained in
a note that the speeches 'were then intended for the Sacrament
[1743], yet was it not celebrated until 1749 by reason
of the Unfitness of the people for that solemnity, and want
of Utensils, etc.'
A part of the volume is set apart for a list of the
Number and Names of Communicants in Dunrossness Ministry,
The list embraces sixteen districts, from Fladabister on the
north to Sumburgh Head, the extreme southern point of the
country, comprising the entire area of the three united parishes
of Dunrossness, Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh, which formed
the 'Ministry' under Mill's charge. The total number of
communicants is given as '567,' which may be assumed as
that for the year when the roll was first completed, 1749;
but there are numerous interlineations and additions which
largely increase the number, and show that the roll is not
limited to that year, but is a continuous record till probably
an advanced period, if not indeed applying to the entire course
of Mill's incumbency. It is thus of doubtful value, either as
a matter of church statistics or as a test of population, so far
as details go, because an accurate list of the communicants in
the different districts for any one year cannot now be safely
deduced from it, and the list has therefore not been transcribed
for the present work. But some of the points brought
out are noteworthy.
Taking the list as a whole, covering a somewhat extended
period, the proportion of the sexes is fairly maintained in the
aggregate, Dunrossness proper (excluding Sandwick and Cunningsburgh)
showing 244 males and 232 female communicants.
But there are some curious variations in the detail. For
instance, in the district of Tolb, the female communicants are
exactly double the males, i.e. 26 to 13; while in South Voe
the males are more than double the females, being 11 to 5;
and in St. Ninian's Isle, now uninhabited, and which would
seem incapable of supporting more than one or two families,
no less than 16 males, with 7 females, are presented. Scatness,
with 6 males, has 20 female communicants; these in
every case, as previously explained, extending over a series
of years.
The state of the roll does not admit of a satisfactory comparison
being made between its date and the present time, and
the circumstances, besides, are widely different. In the Church
of Scotland Year-Book, 1888, the communicants in Dunrossness
are given as 424, and in Sandwick and Cunningsburgh,
413. To this must be added, in any estimate of church-membership,
a considerable number for those attached to other
Churches, while, at the date of Mill's Communion-roll dissent
was unknown, except as regards the small remnant who had
refused to accept the Revolution Settlement and still adhered
to Episcopacy. Among these were the leading families in
the parish, namely, Sinclair of Quendale, Bruce of Sumburgh,
Sinclair of Brew, Sinclair of Goat, John, Bruce Stewart of
Bigton, and some others, who were ministered to in private
by the Rev. Mr. Hunter, the last Episcopal clergy-man until
the comparatively recent re-establishment of the Scottish
Episcopal Church in the islands.
The volume of Speeches, etc., is in the possession of Mr.
Bruce of Sumburgh.
To the four preceding works which have been described,
two in manuscript and two in print, and which are personal to
Mill as author, there might be added the Records of the Kirk--
Session of Dunrossness, which, during the entire period of his
ministry, were either penned by him, or, apparently, written
to his dictation.
THE selections from records and original documents printed
in the APPENDIX are of different dates, but they all afford
illustrations of local life and history in the times to which they
refer. Original matter of very striking importance in reference
to a remote and obscure district like a Shetland parish is
not to be readily found, if, indeed, it exist at all; and it has
therefore been necessary to be contented with such materials
as were available. The extracts and documents quoted may
be noticed in order as follows, viz.:—
DUNROSSNESS, 1764-1805.
The Minutes of Session previous to Mill's incumbency are
not now known to be in existence. The earliest volume extends
from 1764 to 1841. Eighteen pages at the beginning are lost.
These doubtless recorded the proceedings from the date when
the book in use at the time of his settlement in 1743 was
finished to that of the first entry preserved, viz., 22d April
1764. From that time it is a continuous record (a few separate
pages lost), almost wholly in his own handwriting until near
the time of his death in 1805. It is a folio volume, 12 in. by
7½ in., much frayed at the edges, with only one of the boards
remaining, and the binding entirely gone. I am obliged to
the Rev. William Brand, the present minister of the parish, for
permission to make such use of it for the present publication
as might be deemed desirable, and I have accordingly, in the
APPENDIX, given a series of extracts illustrating the course of
ecclesiastical procedure, and the state of parochial economics
so far as these are touched upon.
The events of Mill's own life, and the principal occurrences
in the district under his care during the sixty years of his incumbency,
are fully recorded in his autobiographic narrative;
and the Church records, confined to matters of purely ecclesiastical
concern, are almost barren of incidents of general interest
or importance. They may be said merely to chronicle the
services of each successive Sunday, and the actings of the
Session as a petty police and morals judicatory, supposed to
be clothed with a certain sanction of divinity inherited from
bygone times.
The unending burden of the record, here as elsewhere in
Church Records-of the period, is the old story of moral delinquency,
which occupies alike the time of the Session and the
pen of the Clerk, ad nauseam. Offenders, individually or in
couples, are ever and anon presented, charged with the 'heinous
crime,' which is often admitted, often stoutly denied, and condemned
to undergo discipline as accords. To be 'rebuked and
exhorted to unfeigned repentance, and to make public satisfaction
for the scandal, communi firma,' was the fate, with
varying degrees of severity, of these too numerous frail ones of
both sexes. To stand before the congregation for twenty-six
Sabbaths was the penal judgment in ordinary cases; in cases
of obstinacy, or lapses for a second or third time, the judgment
was sometimes extended to appearance in public for a whole
year, with infliction of a fine suitable to the gravity of the
case, after which the delinquents were 'rebuked for the last
time and dismissed from discipline.' The fine was sometimes
10s. sterling, sometimes 15s., and occasionally as much as £12
Scots, i.e. about £1 sterling. There were instances in which
the fine was remitted on account of poverty.
Antenuptial impropriety, though a constant subject of discipline,
was treated as less heinous. Parties were at times
dismissed from discipline after three, four, up to nine, appearances
before the congregation.
On one occasion an alleged premature birth, caused
apparently by the mother's having fallen from a horse,
became matter of suspicion and inquiry. The parties were
called before the Session to explain and exculpate (August
14, 1768).
Some respect of persons, especially when their purse admitted
of a substantial fine being imposed, seems not to have
been altogether disregarded. On 1st April 1804, James Hughson
and Helen Aiken, offenders, having confessed and paid
thirty shillings sterling, were dismissed for 'one day's appearance
and publick Rebuke.'
For repeated offences, and especially persistent denials and
contumacious resistance to discipline, parties were ordered to
compear before the next meeting of Presbytery at Lerwick,
twenty miles or so distant. Considering the trouble and
difficulty of travelling such a distance, the interference with
ordinary labour, and the disgrace which it involved, a judgment
of this kind must have been a tremendous infliction,
resembling the anathemas of the Church in the middle ages.
To those who, under strong presumptive evidence of guilt,
persisted in denial, an 'Oath of Purgation' was administered,
under the idea that, like torture, it would compel confession,
and it no doubt was often successful in accomplishing this.
A copy of the oath is nowhere given. It was evidently of
great solemnity, not readily to be taken with an easy conscience.
See APPENDIX, cases of 20th March 1764, and September
24, 1769.
After the death of Mill, the Session, under the presidency
of the new minister, the Rev. John Duncan, came at length to
see that the frequent appearances of offenders in public before
the congregation were not attended with the beneficial results
which were intended, and on 21st April 1806 they came to a
resolution to modify the terms of public 'satisfaction,' as it
was called. Appearances in cases of the most aggravated
nature were reduced to four, and absolution from 'Public
Scandal and Church Censure' in less offensive cases was to be
still more easily obtained. Inquisition by the Session for
offences against the laws of morality, though greatly fewer
than formerly, continued in much the same way till after the
middle of the present century, though fines seem to have ceased.
With the advent of Dissent in the parish, this strictly parochial
jurisdiction gradually became circumscribed, as Church discipline
formed, of course, an essential function of the congregational
life of all the denominations in the district equally.
It may be noted here that the usual time when the Session
adjudicated upon these scandals was on Sundays, before or after
service. Occasionally meetings of the Session were held at the
manse; and on one occasion, the case being that of a frail
delinquent at Wilsness, near Sumburgh, the minister and two
elders proceeded to that place (17th August 1777), and, after
a Sessional meeting had been constituted by prayer, the case
was dealt with on the spot.
Blasphemy, including swearing and 'imprecating damnation'
upon neighbours, appears to have been a too common
offence, which the constant exercise of discipline had little effect
in restraining. Offenders were not confined to the sterner sex,
females being frequently indicted, as will be seen from some
curious examples in the APPENDIX. In these examples somewhat
singular eccentricities of imprecation are displayed, the
powers, in at least two instances, which are quoted, being implored
to send Satan down the throats of certain neighbours;
on another occasion Satan is asked to burn both the obnoxious
neighbour and her peats; and on another, a dog is the object
of an infuriated dame's malediction. With an intensely realistic
view, prevailing at the time, of the presence and sulphurous
power of Satan, it is neither to be wondered at that his aid
was invoked in outbursts of passion, nor that the machinery of
Church discipline was set in motion against those who appealed
to his destructive agency, or prayed that others should be condemned
everlastingly to his keeping. Heinous as the offence
was, the fine imposed was not excessive, sometimes one shilling,
sometimes a half-crown, or its equivalent, £1, 10s. Scots, and
sometimes merely rebuke.
The observance of the Sabbath appears to have been carefully,
indeed rigorously, guarded throughout last century, as it may
be said it still is in the district, though nowadays the only
restraining force is public opinion. In 1765 it was found that
great scandal had been caused by a man and his daughter
having rolled a cask of tallow from the seaside (where it had
been driven ashore) on a Sunday evening. But this is not
equalled in rigour of discipline by the treatment of an occurrence,
so late as 1834, in the same parish of Dunrossness, when
fines amounting to 30s. appear to have been exacted from
parishioners who went out on the Sunday to some Davis
Straits whaling-vessels, just arrived on the coast, to render the
very benevolent help of taking ashore the chests of some of the
crews belonging to the district, to save the labour of transporting
them twenty miles by land from Lerwick. Despising a
public Fast-day was reckoned approximate in scandal to Sabbath-breaking.
For this offence one Peter Jamieson was summoned
on 9th October 1787. He was dismissed without a fine.
The supreme anathema of the Church was, as in ancient
times, Excommunication. It was only resorted to in extreme
cases, where Church and Presbyterial censure were obstinately
resisted and set at defiance.
The nominations for the Eldership seem, as might be expected,
to have proceeded directly from the minister, as probably
the best judge of fitness. If no relevant objections to
the persons nominated were substantiated, their ordination to
the office proceeded in the usual way. Most of the old elders
being dead, the eldership was reconstituted on Sunday, 29th
March 1772, when the following were ordained, viz.:—
For Bigton district — James Lisk, John Anderson.
„ Rerwick — James Laurenceson.
„ Scousburgh — William Sinclair, Walter Henryson.
For Scotshall — John Brown, William Stout.
„ Tolb, Scatness, and Willsness — John Strong, younger,
and Laurence Young.
„ Noss — Henry Sinclair, James Mode [Mouat], and
George Brown.
„ Hillwel — John Lesslie, senior, and John Arcus.
„ Lud and Cour — John Lesslie, junior, and John Shewan.
„ Garth — John Stout, Thomas Sinclair, and Magnus
„ Skelberry — James Lesslie, senior, William Young, and
John Sinclair.
„ Clumley — Robert Gadie and Gawn Gadie.
„ Southvoe — Alexander Scott and Malcom Halcrow.
„ Ringasta — James Lesslie, junior, and George Williamson.

In this way the whole parish was mapped out, under a complete
territorial system, for Church supervision through the
agency of a selected number of the most reputable and trustworthy
of her communion, — that is, of the whole body of heads
of families in the different districts of the parish, for Dissent
was practically unknown.
The Elders above named are for the parish of Dunrossness
proper. There is no record here at this time of those for the
conjunct parishes of Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, which also
formed part of the Ministry in Mill's time, and still indeed
do so, though a separate minister is now provided, who officiates
in the church of Sandwick. The Elders for these parishes
are again named at a later date, at an ordination in 1791.
The duties of the Eldership are nowhere distinctly defined
in the Minutes under notice, but were probably in no essential
respect different from those usually attached to the office in
Scotland. The Elders seem to have had an important charge
in looking after the poor. The attendance of parishioners at
Church services, and at Communion seasons, previous to which
tokens had to be distributed,1 would involve continual attention
on their part; while much of their time must necessarily have
been consumed, and not very profitably, in the inquisitions in
No. 1 No. 2.
(1) D. K. (Dunrossness Kirk) 1749. (2) D. K. 1797.
cases of scandal, which so largely predominated in the business
before the Session.
The list of parishioners on the Poor Roll, and the distributions
from time to time for their support, are an interesting
study, and form a curious commentary on the state of matters
now existing in country parishes under the Poor Law Act as
contrasted with that formerly prevailing. From the particulars
given in the APPENDIX, under the head 'Parochial Finance,' it
will be seen that at the date of the first statement, January
1765, there were 20 paupers on the roll in the parish of
Dunrossness, besides 4 widows, and 6 other persons who
received trifling allowances. The poor of the higher class received
£1, 10s. Scots each, or a half-crown sterling, apparently
for a whole year; the ordinary poor received £1, 4s. Scots, or
2s. sterling; and widows £1, 16s. Scots, or 3s. each. The whole
sum disbursed for the support of the poor from the Church
funds reached only to about £3, 3s. for the entire year!
It is proper to explain, in reference to this, that under the
1 It is stated on one occasion (September 18, 1768) that the minister himself
distributed the tokens at an afternoon service. Whether this was habitual or
not does not appear.
old system the money given to the poor from the Church funds
formed only a portion of their maintenance. The aid of relatives
was first relied upon, and was usually ungrudgingly
bestowed. This again was supplemented by door-to-door
visitations by the poor themselves, who, in necessitous cases,
were housed and fed by the parishioners, as they passed on
from hamlet to hamlet, thus receiving entertainment from
the better class of householders in rotation. This continued
in practice down to perhaps thirty or forty years ago. It was
not more burdensome to the 'ratepayers,' as householders are
now termed, and was much more humane treatment of the
poor than their enforced seclusion in district poorhouses.
At this time (1765) the salaries or allowances to parochial
officials were not excessive. The precentor received 6s. 8d.
sterling per annum for his services, the Church-officer, 5s., and
the treasurer, 3s. 6d. The following year the precentor received
a trifle more, namely £4, 10s. Scots, or 7s. 6d., but the
Church-officer was reduced to 3s. 6d.
The sources of income were the Church-door collections, the
fines imposed on persons amenable to Church discipline, and
the charge for the use of the mortcloth at funerals, usually
6d. or a trifle more.
Funerals at the expense of the parish cost about 3s. in 1778.
It appears from an entry in 1767 that the Session had a
supply of BOOKS, doubtless Bibles and religious publications,
on hand for sale. Of these there were sold to the value of
£13, 18s. Scots, or, say 23s. sterling, while a surplus stock,
worth 10s. 6d., remained on hand.
On one occasion (25th March 1790) the Session made an.
advance to their officer of 15s. from the Church funds, repayable
in one year. A small balance, termed the 'stock,' usually
only a few pounds sterling in amount, was carried forward from
year to year, and used as working capital for support of the
poor, or any special demands.
Neither the Session Records, which were penned by Mill, nor
his Diary, throw much light upon the state of education in
the district at the time — the second half of last century and
the beginning of the present. Such particulars as may be
gleaned are given under a subsequent head, 'Early State of
Education in Dunrossness.'
In 1818 the venerable official, the 'Reader,' whose office
was suppressed by the General Assembly in 1581, 1 reappears
upon the scene in the Minutes of this parish in the person of
William Henry, so styled, who receives 15 shillings yearly for
his services. He disappears from view in 1830, and was perhaps
the last officially recognised 'Reader' in Scotland.
The ancient scourge of Leprosy was present in Mill's time;
at any rate, a subsidised pauper on one occasion was termed
a 'Leper.'
A noticeable feature in these records during the second
half of the century is the existence at the time, in the parish,
of numerous family names, some of them known centuries
before, but all which have now disappeared from the district.
The following may be cited as examples, viz.:—
Grizel Blackbeard. Helen Roeman.
Agnes Knarston. Margaret Burleigh.
Christian Stott. Marjory Grott.
John Archibald. Sibrina Lamb.
James Macpherson.2 Christian Folster.
Elspet Ysmester. Margaret Ratter.
Robert Marwick. Helen Rich.
The majority of these are more or less well-known Orkney
1 'Anent Readers: Forsuamickle as in Assembleis preceiding, the office
thereof was concludit to be no ordinar office in the Kirk of God, and the admissione
of them suspendit to the present Assemblie: the Kirk, in ane voyce,
hes votit and concludit farther, that in no tymes comeing any Reader be admittit
to the office of Reader be any haveing power within the Kirk.'
2 Macpherson. I was told by a descendant that the family derived from a
refugee from the Jacobite 'Rebellion in Scotland.'
names, some of them probably those of vagrants who came and
settled in the district, becoming ultimately chargeable on the
Church funds, as most of the above persons were.
It was reported, traditionally, that a Dutchman, one
Gudrun Funk, settled in the parish, whose son was Olla Gudrun.
Olla's daughter was Isabel Olla or Ollie, who appears in the
Poor's Roll of 1812.
In concluding this notice of the contents of the Kirk--
Session records, it may be well to mention the state of the
other local Registers. The following are in existence, and
preserved in the General Register House:—
DUNROSSNESS, Births and Marriages from 1753.
FAIR ISLE, Births from 1767; Marriages „ 1789.
In DUNROSSNESS Register the Births are blank from May
1783 to April 1789, except 4 entries. The Marriages are
blank from February 1756 to June 1790.
In SANDWICK AND CUNNINGSBURGH, the Birth Registers are
irregular and defective from June 1782 to June 1785, and the
Marriages blank from December 1782 to October 1786.
In FAIR ISLE Register about 37 families are recorded in
groups, preceded generally by the entry of Marriage of the
parents, with 15 transcribed entries of Births, 1767-1796.
The County Records of Shetland, preserved in the Register
House, are as follows:—
ZETLAND, 1st July 1623 to 1st March 1672, volume 1
(prior to 1st July 1623) has been lost; volumes 3
and 4 are imperfect.
ORKNEY and ZETLAND (combined), 8th June 1661 to
5th December 1752.
SHETLAND, 11th October 1744 to 6th Feb. 1869.
Testaments, 1611 to 1684, with Index.
Decreets, 1648 to 1668 (fragment).
Sheriff Court of Orkney and Zetland, 1564, etc., and
from 1612 to 1665.
Sheriff Court of Zetland, 1602 to 1604.
These extracts have been given in fuller detail than was at
first proposed, but they are not without importance as indicating
the confused and dilapidated state in which, in many
instances, the property of the Church must have come down
from earlier times — apparently no distinct title and no clear
definition of boundaries. The origin and history of the glebe
cannot now be learned; but all goes to show that the 10
merks of land in Skelberry, originally intermixed — 'runrig' —
with the conterminous properties, formed the patrimony of
the Church and the residence of the parish priest from the
earliest time of a settled parochial system. The ground, like
the revenues, in all likelihood suffered diminution at the
convulsions of the Reformation, though it is true that in
Shetland the transition was accomplished more smoothly than
in most other places. As was common in many districts, the
vicarage of Dunrossness passed into the hands of a layman, as
shown elsewhere in the APPENDIX.
Rev. JOHN MILL, 1793.
This has already been noticed under the head of Mill's own
writings, ante.
The laborious investigations of the late Dr. Hew Scott
have resulted in an almost complete list of the parish clergy
of Scotland since the Reformation being now available for
the student of ecclesiastical history in the pages of the Fasti
Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ. But the centuries prior to the Reformation
have no record of this kind. The clergy of pre-Reformation
times are only to be discovered now and again, individually
or in small accidental groups, in charters and documents, in
occasional registers of Cathedrals or Religious Houses, and in
fugitive writings which may chance to have been preserved.
In Orkney the members of the Chapter of St. Magnus
had a better chance of surviving in record, and the names of
a good many beneficed clergymen connected with the Cathedral
have come down to us. But in Shetland, while we know that
the parochial divisions existed for ages before the Reformation
very much as at present, and while, as will be seen under
another head, the churches from the earliest times can, without
much difficulty, be identified, it is sad to have to record that
the clergy who had the spiritual charge of those parishes, and
ministered at the altars in those churches before many successive
generations of worshippers, have almost all passed into oblivion,
without leaving a trace behind. The only two pre-Reformation
clergymen of Dunrossness whose names I have been able
to recover are —
Henry Strang, Vicar of Dunrossness, 1525.
Sir Nicol Wryschart, Do. 1546.
Both names occur in documents preserved in the Sheriff--
Court Office in Lerwick, and described in the Proceedings
the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 1
1 Notice of Ancient Legal Documents (Lay and Ecclesiastical) preserved
among the Public Records of Shetland. By the Editor. Proceedings S. A. Scot.,
vol. xvi., 1882, p. 181.
The post-Reformation clergy of the united parishes and
given in the APPENDIX. There is not much requiring to be
added in reference to those names beyond the facts there noted.
With the exception of Mill, the author of the Diary, and
Thomas Barclay, afterwards Principal of Glasgow University,
who were natives, they all appear to have been strangers to
the country.
Malcolm Sinclair, designed 'Reader,' was presented to the
Vicarage of Dunrossness in 1575, and continued in 1601. The
name presents some ambiguity. Under the head of 'Ecclesiastical
Revenues' of the parish, in the APPENDIX, this Malcolm
Sinclair is stated, in a document of 1576, to possess 'the
haill Vicarage of Dunrosnes,' he paying the 'Readers' at the
different churches, Laurence Sinclair being then the Reader
at Cross Kirk and the Fair Isle. In 1610 Laurence Sinclair,
then designed 'Vicar and Titular,' is said to have 'set' the
Vicarage to Malcolm Sinclair of Quendall, who also, in the
previous year, 1609, receives from Earl Patrick a Discharge,
printed in the APPENDIX, for the Umboth, or Bishopric revenues,
of this and other parishes, which he is said to hold under tack
from the Earl. It is not clear whether Malcolm Sinclair, the
Churchman of 1576, 1601, and Malcolm Sinclair, this laird
of Quendale, who held the Vicarage by the tack of 1610,
are the same person. The laird was a person of some note
in his day. It was he who received the shipwrecked mariners
of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and whose tombstone, with
the date 1618, still remains on the site of the ruined Cross
Church at Quendale.
James Forbes, A.M., 1662 to 1682, has left his name on record
in connection with a 'mortification' executed by his widow,
of a small sum of land rent for the benefit of widows in the
parish. Reference to this provision, which was attempted to
be set aside by an heir, is made in the Diary (1756), when
Mill stoutly asserted, and succeeded in maintaining, the rights
of the beneficiaries. In 1786 Disposition was granted to
John Bruce of Sumburgh by James Forbes, shipmaster, of
the 'Pund of the Brecks adjacent to Voe,' in Dunrossness,
under the burden of seven pounds Scots, payable yearly out of
the rents of the room of Brecks when the same yields so much
rent, to four of the most indigent widows, to be chosen in
manner directed. It is understood that this small revenue
(several times alluded to in the Kirk-Session Minutes) is now
lost sight of from its original destination.
James Kay, A.M., 1682 to 1720, is the author of the
valuable manuscript papers, preserved in the Advocates'
Library, from which Sir Robert Sibbald obtained his description
of Dunrossness in his book on Shetland, 1711; and from
which also the paper in the APPENDIX, headed 'Feuds and
Bloodshed in Dunrossness in the Sixteenth Century,' is now,
for the first time, put in print. He seems to have been a
man of learning and industry, and an earnest student of the
history and topography of the district.
When to the above names are added those of John Mill
and Principal Barclay, it may safely be affirmed that this far--
off parish has had clergymen of whom all connected with it
have reason to be proud.
1. DUNROSSNESS. — There is nothing to be gleaned from the
Session Records as to the old pre-Reformation parish church of
Dunrossness, in which Mill officiated for nearly half a century.
This was the 'Cross Kirk' or 'Cors-Kirk,' which stood for centuries
on the Sand at Quendale, and which Mill on his presentation
to the parish found 'in ruins,' as he, perhaps with
some degree of exaggeration, expresses it.1 Its state of disrepair
1 The ruinous state of the church, want of manse, etc., had been complained
became, however, serious, and after much difficulty with the
heritors, it was eventually superseded by the present church
on the 'ground of Brew,' which was opened by Mill in 1791.
At a meeting of the Session on 31st January 1765, the
minister acknowledged to have paid into the funds £2, 12s.
stg. as 'the price of the Bell that was sent south.' This
was, there is little doubt, the Cross-Kirk bell of the times
of old sent to the melting-pot to be converted into cash.
Certainly no sound of the church-going bell has been heard
there since then.
According to Mill, the church was not provided with
seats when he came to it (Diary, 1750). This was afterwards
rectified, but while the church remained in that primitive
state worshippers would come and go, providing their own
resting-places, or standing during service. In this way the
alleged incident of 'Jenny Geddes's Stool' about a century
earlier, in the metropolis, became natural and easy in performance.

The title of 'Cross-Kirk' indicates its having been cruciform
in construction, consisting of nave, chancel, and transepts,
but no trace even of foundation remains to lend corroboration
to this. The barbarous tastelessness of a neighbouring
proprietor led to every stone being removed for house and
farm-office buildings. There are preserved only a few tombstones,
of which one, standing erect, is of some pretension.
The inscriptions are weathered and decayed. The site retained
its sacredness as the burying-place of the district for many
years after the church disappeared, and, upon and around
the sand-blown knoll upon which it stood, ghastly relics of
those interments are still exposed to view, uncovered and protruding
upon the surface in the wake of every succeeding blast.
of to the General Assembly by his predecessor, the Rev. William Maxwell, on
13th May 1740.
The dedication of Cross Kirk is not known with certainty.
It might have been to the Holy Rood,1 but a dedication to
St. Matthew seems to be indicated in a paper of about the
year 1610, on the Rentals of Benefices in Shetland, an
extract from which is given in the Appendix, No. VI.
Brand, in his Description of Orkney, Zetland, etc., 1701,
makes only a passing reference to this ancient church, but
Sir Robert Sibbald, whose work on Orkney and Shetland was
published in 1711, gives an earlier and more particular account,
as follows:—
'In the midst of this sand, (at the end of Quendal Bay,)
stands the South Kirk of Dunroseness, called the Cross-Kirk,
a Church prettie large and well replenished, but of no Magnificent
structure, yet equall to (if not exceeding) the rest of
the Countrey. This Church is surrounded with Banks of Sand,
two or three paces distant from the Water, consequently no
good Burial place, for, if it blow but an ordinary gale, many
of the Coffins are discovered, and sometimes naked Corpses;
for all have not Coffins. To the South wall of this Church
are affixed two Monuments, one very Large, and very curiously
Cut, at the Expenses of Hector Bruce of Mowaness; another
(not so large nor so fine) belonging to Lawrence Sinclair of
Quendale: there are other two, within the Church, standing
upon Pillars, one pertaining to Robert Bruce of Soumburgh
another to Quendale; besides these are no graved Stone
Inscriptions or Monuments within Dunroseness.'
Low, in the course of his Tour through the Islands in 1774, 2
visited the Dunrossness Kirk, to which he briefly alludes thus:—
The sand penetrates everywhere; when I stept into the
Kirk, observed it found its way thro' the minutest crannies,
1 There is a place in the neighbourhood still called Corston, i.e. the town of
the Cors or Cross.
2 A Tour through the Islands of Orkney and Shetland. Published by W.
Peace and Son (Kirkwall, 1879), p. 185.
covering the whole pews, and thus becoming very troublesome
in time of divine service, especially if the wind blows from
the sea, whence the sand shower seems to proceed.'
This account by Low is paraphrased, in an eloquent
passage, by Dr. Hibbert in his great book on Shetland,
published in 1822, but the passage contains little that is
really new.
The large, erect, and richly sculptured tombstone is in
memory of Barbara Sinclair, daughter of John Sinclair of
Quendale, who was married to Hector Bruce of Muness, in
the island of Unst, and died 22d May 1675. The inscription
is in Latin, and is now imperfectly legible. Another stone
commemorates Malcolm Sinclair of Quendale, previously alluded
to as possessing the lay vicarage of the parish, and as the
Malcolm Sinclair of the Spanish Armada incident. He died
Jany. 6, 1618. A third stone is inscribed, 'Hic jacet vir
illustris Iacobus Sinclarus de Quendale … qui obiit Jan.
29, 1636,' etc. etc.
The old Kirk of Dunrossness appears on one occasion to
have been profaned by a scene of murder. It is related in
a MS. in the Advocates' Library, volume 13. 2. 8, elsewhere
referred to in the present work, that in the reign of Queen
Mary, or shortly afterwards, in revenge for a quarrel, 'Henry
Sinclair of Sandwick, instigated by his wife, conduced his
man to stab Richard Leask, son-in-law to Oliver Sinclair of
Brew, which he did, as he was entering the door of the
Church, and so he died.' Vengeance, at the instance of the
friends of the deceased, followed, and the murderer was slain
'upon a Moor between Laxfoord and Lerwick.'
One other incident, perhaps a spurious one, may be quoted
under this head. It is an extract from an oration alleged to
have been pronounced within the Dunrossness Kirk. The
authority is the scurrilous but amusing work, Scotch Presbyterian
Eloquence Display'd (1738):—
'At first I begin with one [a Presbyterian Minister] I
heard [of] from Zetland, who preaching on David and
Goliah, he told the Hearers, "Sirs, this Davie was but
a little Manikine, like my Beddle Davie Geddies there; but
Goliah was a meikle strong Fallow, like the Laird of Quandal
there; this Davie gets a Scrippie and a Baggie, that is, a
Sling and a Stone in it; he slings a stone into Goliah's face,
down falls Goliah, and David above him: After that David
was made a King; he was keeping Sheep before; in Truth he
came very well too, Sirs: Well said, Davie! see what comes
of it, Sirs. After that he (commits sin) with Uriah. Nay
(said the beddle Davie Geddies) it was but Uriah's Wife,
Sir. In faith, thou art right; it was Uriah's Wife, indeed
Man, said Mr. John."'
Whatever touch of exaggeration may be in the narrative
it is not improbable that it may have some claim to authenticity.
The reference to the 'Laird of Quandal' (the ordinary
native pronunciation of the name) is strongly confirmatory,
but the beadle's name, Davie Geddes, is not suggestive of the
native soil. There is no known minister of the parish who
bore the name of 'John' since John Kingsone (1571-1574),
but the name may have been used arbitrarily, or the preacher
may have been a stranger — most likely an Aberdonian. Anyway,
it is sad indeed that such stuff, a murder, and one or
two small passages-at-arms between Mill and the devil, should
be the only recorded incidents from the many centuries of
worship within the walls of this ancient sanctuary.
The foundation of the new church was marked off on 2d
June 1790, and it was completed the following year.1 On 11th
July (Sunday) following, it is related, in the Minutes of the
Kirk-Session, that 'the Minister Lectur'd Ps. 44 from v. 17th
1 Mill's initials, 'I. M.', and the date '1790,' are carved upon the lintel of
the north church-door; on that of the east door is simply the date, '1790.'
and Preach'd Text ut supra at a Tent adjoining to the Wall
of the new Church Building on the ground of Brew.' At
this point the old church vanishes from our view for ever.
The Manse and Glebe appear to have been, from the earliest
known times, at Skelberry, as at present. In a MS. volume in
the Advocates' Library (35. 3. 11), apparently of the seventeenth
century, it is stated that the Glebe is so situated,
and that it consists of '10 merks of land of Danish extent
worth only per annum 44 lib. Scots.' These ten merks were
mixed up, runrig, with the adjoining lands, and to ascertain
and properly define them was a matter of anxious investigation
by Mill, as papers in the APPENDIX sufficiently
When Mill was presented to the parish, the manse, as well
as the Kirk, appears to have been 'in ruins.' A new manse
was built in 1751, and furnished in 1752, but burnt down the
same year, and rebuilt by Mill, as appears from the Diary, at
his own expense, shortly thereafter. The present manse is
said to have been built early in the present century. It was
repaired and enlarged about the years 1862-63.
2. Sandwick. — Reference is constantly made in the Diary,
and in the Kirk-Session Minutes, to the 'North Kirk,' in which
Mill officiated every third Sunday, or as frequently as weather
and other circumstances permitted. This was the church of
Sandwick, the immediately adjoining parish on the north; it
also served as the place of worship for the inhabitants of Cunningsburgh,
the most northerly of the three parishes which
formed the Ministry, the church of that parish having been
allowed after the Reformation to fall into decay.
The church of Sandwick is a modern structure, and no
trace or knowledge of the ancient church seems to be preserved,
except that its having been dedicated to St. Magnus
is indicated in the paper on Shetland Benefices printed in the
Appendix, No. VI. Sandwick ceased to be a separate charge
in 1593, and continued directly under the minister of Dunrossness
until 1833, when it was made quoad sacra, with a
resident minister as at present.
3. Church of the Fair Isle. — A small place of worship, suitable,
doubtless, for the requirements of the place, seems to have
existed here from early times. Its dedication is not known,
but a small revenue, known as 'St. Peter's Stouk,' existed of
old. Receipt and discharge for the yearly amount, viz., 'seven
Angel Nobles,' was granted by Earl Patrick Stewart to Malcolm
Sinclair of Quendale in 1609. See copy in the Appendix,
No. XI. As mentioned in the Diary, the isle could be visited
by the minister only at rare intervals, but of late the Church
of Scotland has endeavoured to maintain a catechist able to
read sermons and be otherwise useful in the absence of an
ordained minister.
Besides the above churches which were in Mill's time, and
have been for a long period before and after his day, under the
charge of the incumbent of this extended ministry, several other
churches, or cells, or district oratories, were in existence within
the bounds from early ages to times comparatively recent. All
these have been swept into oblivion, leaving only such traces
as may be recovered by the archæologist. The sites are:—
4. The Church of Cunningsburgh. — This church, situated
at Maill's Ayre,1 has long since disappeared, but the site,
enclosed by a stone wall, is still preserved as the burying--
ground of the district, where
Each in his narrow cell …
The rude forefathers of the hamlets sleep.
The Free Church and manse now stand close by. Relics of
early occupation, both in Pagan and in remote Christian
times, have been brought to light on this spot. Polished
1 Maill's Ayre: i.e. Mels-Eyrr (Old Northern), beach of a sandbank.
implements, etc., of the stone age,1 a fragment of an Oghaminscribed
slab,2 and a monumental stone bearing an inscription
in Runic characters,3 have in recent years been brought
to light.
The reading of the Oghamic fragment is, as usual in such
cases, obscure, but the Runic epitaph admits of no doubt.
Though incomplete, it clearly commemorates one Thurbairn,
the father of the person who inscribed it.
The reading is —
rais)ed this stone after father his Thurbair (n).4
The stone implements, the Oghamic fragment, and the
Runic stone, are specially characteristic relics of three successive
ages, viz., (1) the Pagan, (2) the Celtic Christian, and
(3) the Scandinavian. The Celtic stage of Christian life, following
upon ages of primordial Paganism, may be said, roughly
speaking, to have terminated a thousand years ago, when the
influx of the Norsemen gave dominance for a time to a new
form of Paganism, the Norse, which, in turn, yielded to the
higher forces of Christianity. These successive ages have
thus left the strikingly characteristic relics, which have been
referred to, upon this interesting spot.5
1 Paper on Stone Implements from Shetland. By Professor Duns, D.D., in
Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. xv., 1881, p. 241.
2 Paper by the Editor in the Proceedings S. A. Scot., vol. xvii., 1883, p. 306.
3 Paper by the Editor, ibid., vol. xiii., 1879, p. 136. The stone was found
by the Rev. Geo. Clark, F. C. Minister, Cunningsburgh.
4 I am indebted for this drawing to the kindness of the Council of the Society
of Antiquaries of Scotland.
5 Another Runic and a small Oghamic fragment have also been found in
the neighbourhood.
Extremely little is known of the Church of Cunningsburgh
beyond the mere identification of the site. It only appears
upon record in circumstances of neglect and disgrace, less than
half a century after the light had disappeared from its altar, at
the crisis of the Reformation. At a court held at Dunrossness,
7th July 1603, the following doom was pronounced:—
David Leslie to mak repentance for misusing the Kirk of
It is tryit that David Leslie hes maist schamefullie misusit
the Kirk of Cunnisburghe, and placeit his guidis [i.e. cattle]
theirinto, making the samen ane kow byre, for the quhilk he
is decernit to mak his repentance in presence of the Minister
and haill Congregatioune on Sonday nixt in sackclayth, and
farder to pay xl s̃. to the King for his offence' (Court Book of
Orkney and,Shetland, General Register House).
The downward course to ruin no doubt rapidly proceeded
after this, the parishioners having to repair for worship to the
Church of Sandwick.
There is one old tombstone remaining in the churchyard.
The inscription is made out with difficulty, but has been read:—
Here lies the dust of ane honest young gentlewoman
called Anna Forrester lawful daughter of John Forrester,
Aith, who died November 1691, aged years 11.
The pious young
Pass hence to glore
While impious old
Here lay up store.
The people have a tradition that the girl was killed by her
mother striking her on the head with a bundle of keys, of
which — the keys — they trace a representation on the stone.
John Forrester, the father, designed 'lait Chamerlane of Zeitland,'
was witness to a deed signed at Tow, Cunningsburgh on
5th March 1684.
The dedications of the three parochial Churches appear to
have been —
Dunrossness (Cross Kirk), St. Matthew.
Sandwick, St. Magnus.
Cunningsburgh, St. John [St. Paul?].
The authority for these dedications, with the exception of
that, alternatively, of St. Paul at Cunningsburgh, is a paper
on the Benefices of Shetland, by the Rev. James Pitcairne,
minister of Northmavine, which is preserved in the Charter
House of the city of Edinburgh, and from which an extract
is given in the APPENDIX under the head, 'Ecclesiastical
Revenues,' etc.
The map of Shetland, prepared by Timothy Pont, and
published at Amsterdam in Blaeu's Atlas in 1654, has the
church in Cunningsburgh marked as St. Paul's. The same
dedication is assigned to it by the Rev. James Kay, minister
of the united parishes (1682-1716), whose account of these
parishes, contained in MS. Advocates' Library, volume 13. 2. 8,
was published by Sir Robert Sibbald in his book on Orkney
and Shetland, 1711.
5. St. Ninian's Isle, on the west side of the promontory of
Dunrossness; a retired and charming spot, approachable on
foot at low water. The chapel here is referred to by the Rev.
James Kay, in the beginning of the eighteenth century, in
the MS. above referred to, as then existing. The Rev. John
Brand, whose Brief Description, etc., was published in 1701,
says: —
'To the North West of the Ness lyes St. Ninian's Isle, very
pleasant; wherein there is a Chappel, and ane altar in it
whereon some superstitious People do burn Candles to this
In the year 1876 the Editor had the good fortune to discover,
in the burying-ground surrounding the chapel site
(scarcely a stone of which can be said to remain in situ), a
monumental stone, now known as the St. Ninian's
Stone, bearing on one of its edges an incised inscription
in Oghamic characters, and which is
now deposited in the Museum of the Society
of Antiquaries of Scotland.1
This precious relic of remote antiquity seems
to indicate an origin that may be safely attributed
to the Celtic Church of pre-Scandinavian
times, that is, prior to the end of the ninth
6. Church at Ireland, on the west of the
Dunrossness mainland, near St. Ninian's Isle.
According to Kay's Narrative (MS. Advocates'
Library, vol. 13. 2. 8), quoted by Sibbald: —
'Southward from Maweck lyes an Hill called
Ireland Head, from which toward South-east
lyes a village called Ireland,2 where stand the
Walls and Steeple of an Old Kirk.'
We have thus the testimony of a trustworthy
authority that one of those remarkable
towered churches, presumably resembling the
church of Egilsey in Orkney, and, as such,
akin to the towers of brechin and Abernethy,
and to the round towers of Ireland, was standing at Ireland
(or Eyrrland) less than two hundred years ago. An old
1 The characters, which have been read … ESMEQQNANAMMOFFEST,
have puzzled the late Sir Samuel Ferguson, and other Celtic scholars, and
have not as yet been satisfactorily interpreted. See Paper by the Editor
in vol. xii. of the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1876),
p. 20.
2 That is, Eyrr-land (Norse), a place adjoining a gravelly bank by the sea--
tradition, to which much attention need not be paid, existed
in former times to the effect that three such towered
churches, St. Magnus at Tingwall, St. Lawrence's in Burra
Isle, and this church at Ireland, were built by three Norwegian
sisters, — Tingwall by the eldest, Burra by the midmost,
and Ireland by the youngest. The tower in Burra is
stated, in the account quoted by Sibbald, to have been then
five or six stories high. No knowledge of the dedication of
the church at Ireland is preserved.
7. Levenwick — All trace, all memory or knowledge, of a
church here is gone, but the character of the site still occupied
as the 'Kirkyard' of Levenwick, proclaims without much
dubiety that here was the place of worship of the district,
and the name would seem to indicate its attribution to the
Celtic St. Levan.
8. Clumlie. — Here constant and unvarying tradition has
pointed out the site of an ancient chapel, the surrounding
ground still bearing the name Kurkyfield, i.e. Kirkfield. The
only significant relic is one grave-slab, removed from the spot
to act as a pavement stone in the village more than thirty
years ago.
There is strong presumptive evidence in the name Clumlie,
that the dedication was to St. Colum, or Columba, the father,
co-ordinately with St. Ninian, of the Celtic Church of the outlying
districts of Scotland. The name, by a simple and
scarcely discernible transition, seems to modify itself from the
Gaelic Choluimcille, in Skye, to Columlie — the town and loch of
Clumlie, in which form it also appears in Orkney in connection
with a church site which may, with some reason, be likewise
assigned to St. Columba.
The site is one of special interest, the village of Clumlie,
now mostly in ruins, having been built alongside, and latterly
out of the material of, a Celtic stronghold (Brough, or round
tower of the Picts) which has been in ruins for, it may be, a
thousand years, and the remains of which were only brought
to light by excavation last year.
In addition to the ancient church sites which have been
described, there is one other of equal interest in Burra Isle,
which is geographically in the same district, though not included
in the 'Ministry.' The two contiguous isles of Burra,
connected by a bridge, lie along the west side of Mill's northern
parish, Cunningsburgh, and in the westmost of these isles,
anciently called the 'Kirk Isle,' is the churchyard of Papil, in
which, as previously mentioned, stood a church with a lofty
tower, dedicated to St. Lawrence. The Rev. Hugh Leigh,
A.M., minister of Bressa, Burra, and Quarff, 1672-1714, reports
that its 'steeple will be five or six stories high; though a little
church, yet very fashionable, and its Sanctum Sanctorum (or
Quire) yet remains.'1
It was in this churchyard, in July 1877, that the richly
sculptured slab, now in the National Museum, and known as
the Burra stone, caught my eye.2
The stone is 6 ft. 10 in. in length by about 1½ ft. in
breadth. Its sculpturings show a cross within a wheel, with
interlaced Celtic ornamentation. Beneath this, on either side
of the shaft, are figures of two ecclesiastics, bearing croziers
or baculae, two of them also having satchels. A panel below
bears a nondescript animal, resembling a dog or lion; and at
the bottom are two semi-human figures, holding, axes, and inserting
their bird-like beaks into it human head between them.
The Burra Stone is, like the Ogham stones of St. Ninian's
and Cunningsburgh before noticed, a relic of the ancient Celtic
1 Leigh's MS., printed in Sir Robert Sibbald's Description of the Isles of
Orkney and Zetland; Edinburgh, 1711.
2 Paper, Notice of a Sculptured Slab from the Island of Barra, Shetland,
in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. xv., 1881,
p. 199.

Christianity which is now shown, on indubitable evidence, to
have flourished in these islands before the advent of the Pagan
Norsemen in the ninth century. The district had thus a
religious history of a time and of a character of which Mill,
worthy man, had no conception, and which it would have been
perhaps a matter of some difficulty to induce him to realise.
Little need be remarked by way of explanation under this
head. The authentic extracts given show the gradual enlargement
of the minister's stipend from the small sum of
40 merks, estimated at £2, 12s. 6d. shortly after the Reformation
settlement (1571), to £262, with manse and glebe, at
the present day.
The smallness of the sum at the former date illustrates the
force of the saying attributed to Knox, anent the misappropriation
of the property and revenues of the Church by the
greedy 'Reformers,' that 'twa pairtis were freely gevin to the
devill, and the third mon be devyded betwix God and the
The extract dated 1610, in reference to 'The Just Rentelis
of the Benefices' of Shetland, is from a paper which I found
preserved in the Charter House of the city of Edinburgh,
among a large number of interesting documents relating to
the islands which were accumulated in the time (1641 to 1662)
during which the revenues of the Bishopric of Orkney were
held by the city under lease from the Crown.
1 The paper is printed in full by the Editor, Proceedings Society of Antiquaries
of Scotland, vol. xviii., 1884, p. 291.
This story may not seem germane to the purpose of the
present work, but if it violates the canon of unity of time, it
certainly does not do so in respect of unity of place. It gives
us a glimpse of everyday life in the parish at a time many
centuries earlier than anything of a personal nature elsewhere
The story, which was found at Upsala by Professor Vigfusson,
is a MS. fragment belonging to a more extended version
of the Orkneyinga Saga than that now known; and not
having been brought to light at the time, it was not included
in the translation of the Saga. It will no doubt appear in
the long-promised version by Sir George W. Dasent and
Professor Vigfusson.
Earl Rognvald was a hero of a rollicking type, who travelled
far, as a Crusader to the Holy Land and elsewhere; and many
incidents of gallantry and drollery are related of him, quite
in the spirit of the ruse he played upon the Dunrossness man
on this occasion, and of the Skaldic stanza which followed.
The occurrence, no doubt, took place when the Earl was
shipwrecked in Shetland, as told in Chapter lxxix. of the
Saga, where it is stated that he 'stayed a long time in
The fishing industry, and the movements of the people in
connection therewith, are brought before us with great distinctness
in this narrative, seven hundred years old, and are
in no marked degree dissimilar from what prevailed in the
district in Mill's time, or what still prevails there.
1 The Orkneyinga Saga. Translated from the Icelandic by Jon A. Hjaltalin
and Gilbert Goudie. Edited, with Notes and Introduction, by Joseph Anderson.
Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1873. Pp. 128, 129, 130.
I have made the translation from the original as given
in An Icelandic Prose Reader, Vigfusson and Powell; Oxford,
The narrative given in the Appendix is extracted from volume
13. 2. 8 of the manuscript collections in the Advocates' Library.
It is from the pen of the Rev. James Kay, minister of the
parish 1682 to 1716, and is contained in a 'Description of
compiled by him, previously referred to.
The two incidents of slaughter described are not recorded
in any other document at present known. History and local
tradition alike bear testimony to hostile incursions on the
islands by Lewismen, but without sufficient circumstantiality
of detail.
It is stated at some length in Macvurich's and Hugh Macdonald's
MS. how, in the fifteenth century, Hugh Macdonald of
Sleat and William Macleod of Harris ravaged the Orkneys;1
and in 1461 Bishop William of Orkney, in a letter to the
King of Denmark and Norway, complains of these marauders,
under John of Ross, Lord of the Isles, coming to Orkney and
Shetland 'in great multitudes in the month of June, with
their ships and fleets in battle array, wasting the lands,
plundering the farms, destroying habitations, and putting the
inhabitants to the sword, regardless of age or sex.'2
Low, writing in 1774, repeats the traditional story of
these incursions, and refers to the 'Lewismen's graves' at
Sumburgh. The 'Lewis Scords,' indentations in the sand--
heaps on the shore near Scousburgh, on the west side of the
1 Collectanea de Rebus Albanicis (Edinburgh, 1847), pp. 306 et seqq.
2 The document is printed in the Diplomatarium Norvigicum, vol. v. p. 605.
parish, have also been pointed out to myself by resident
natives as a scene of slaughter and burial-place of those invaders.
According to the local story, the male inhabitants
from as far north as Cunningsburgh, hastily summoned, armed
themselves with spears, pitchforks, and every other form of
available weapon, and rushing upon the invaders inflicted an
almost exterminating defeat. But the tradition is silent as
to time or the names of the leading actors. Hibbert alone,
upon what authority is not known, states that 'one of the
Sinclairs of Brew' was in command of the Shetlanders;1 and
here he approaches to the narrative now given in the APPENDIX,
where the cause of the struggle is said to have been enmity
between Oliver Sinclair of Brew and William (Macleod) of the
Lews, so late as in the reign of Queen Mary.
Oliver Sinclair of that day, usually designated 'Ollaw
Sinclair of Havera,' was well known as the Great Fowde, or
Governor, of Shetland. He it was who entertained Bothwell
on his flying visit to the isles in 1567. But no such incident
as is here related has been associated with his name. Nor are
William and Hugh (Macleod) of the Lews easily identified.
Roderick appears to have been the chief of the Lewis Macleods
about this time. William (Macleod) of Harris, a usual name
in that family, chief of the Siol Tormod,' was living till
1554. Hutcheon (or Hugh) cannot be traced.
Although, amid all the feuds of the Macleods, no other
account seems to be preserved of the expedition to Shetland,
so circumstantially related in the MS., it is to be supposed that
the writer, living little more than a century from the time
of the alleged occurrence, should have had reliable data for the
foundation of his narrative. While therefore it seems at present
to lack satisfactory confirmation, it deserves to be recorded here
in view of the possibility of corroboration at some future time.
1 Hibbert, Description of the Shetland Islands, 1822, p. 243.
The story of the struggle between Dillidasse and Sinclair
of Sandwick, resulting from the slaying of Richard Leask,
son-in-law of the same Oliver Sinclair of Brew, as he entered
the Kirk of Dunrossness, is also unknown but for this MS. of
Kay. The slaughter in revenge is stated to have taken place
near Laxfirth in Tingwall. Not far distant in the same
parish is a standing stone which has for long been regarded
as the scene of the death of Malis Spere, on the occasion of
his incursion in Shetland, as recorded in the Iceland Annals
in 1329: but these events are involved in much obscurity.
Richard Leask, son-in-law to Sinclair of Brew, who was
stabbed, was probably a man of some consideration. Sir
David Sinclair of Sumburgh, in his Will, dated 1506,1
appointed Richard Leask one of his executors, along with
Thorrald of Bruch, who was probably the then laird of Brew.
They are described as 'discreit men'; and to Leask ('Richart
Lesk') he leaves 20 merks land in Cwndistay (?) and his
English ship — 'my Inglis schipe with all geir.' Assuming
that Richard in both cases is the same individual, some clew
is given to the date of the story, which may probably have
been somewhat earlier than the reign of Queen Mary.
These Minutes are transcribed in full from a Court Book
of the Earl of Orkney, 1602-1604, preserved in the General
Register House. This Book has been made use of by Peterkin
in his 'Notes,'2 and in the Miscellany of the Maitland Club
1 Testament of Sir David Sinclair of Sumburgh, Captain-General of the
Palace at Bergen, and Foude of Shetland, dated at Tingwall, 9th July 1506.
Miscellany of the Bannatyne Club, vol. iii.
2 Notes on Orkney and Zetland, by Alexander Peterkin, Sheriff-Substitute
of Orkney; Edinburgh, 1822.
(vol. ii.), in which places copious extracts are given both
from this book and from the Court records of Orkney and
Shetland of later dates. But this particular Court, held in
Dunrossness, has not hitherto been noticed.
Earl Patrick Stewart was at the time at the height of
his magnificent prodigality, sustained by the oppression and
plunder of the islanders, which led to his ruin and terminated
his career on the block. The Court, which was presided over
by one of his deputes, John Dishington, very fairly exemplifies
the reign of terror which prevailed. Real or imaginary misdemeanours
were charged almost promiscuously; and as the
assize consisted either of creatures of the Earl, or of unwilling
assessors terrified into acquiescence, fines, alleged to be 'for the
King,' but really for the voracious exchequer of the tyrant
Earl his kinsman, were imposed with rigour.
Many of the alleged offences are of a trifling nature —
mostly small personal assaults, theft, petty slander by calling
bad names, etc.
In one case, a couple of thieves, Adam Cromertie and
James Barnetsoun (a Scotticised form of the native Scandinavian
name Berntsen), have their goods, geir, and lands (if
any) escheat, and themselves banished to Norway. The directness
and frequency of the communication with that country
(still apparently regarded as the fatherland) is shown by
the order that the culprits are to be off 'in the first passage
within the space of ane moneth'; and if they be again apprehended
with even the most trifling theft ('the walour [i.e.
value] of ane ure'), they are to be 'tane and hangit be the
crage quhill they die, in exempill of utheris.'
There are two cases of charge of Witchcraft — 'turning
sieve and riddle for a pair of scissors (scheiris)' and again,
turning of sieve and the scissors.' In both cases the parties
are sentenced to acquit themselves by the oath of compurgators
— the 'saxter aithe,' or oath of six neighbours of repute,
or underlie the law for the crime. The result is not told, and
the method of divination is not more particularly described.
The slaughter of Matthew Sinclair of Ness, which has
sometimes been obscurely alluded to, but never distinctly explained,
comes before the court in the shape of caution taken
for the appearance before my Lord and his deputes, at the
next head-court at Scalloway, of a number of persons implicated.
The case accordingly came up at the Court at Scalloway
on the 16th of the same month — August 1602, — when the
following persons were indicted for the crime, which is said
to have been committed on the 27th day of the month of
June bypast, viz., —
Francis Sinclair of Uyea.
Robert Sinclair his brother.
John Bruce, servitor to Adam Sinclair of Brew.
James Sinclair, son to Laurence Sinclair of Gott.
Laurence Sinclair, son to William Sinclair of Ustaness.
John Lindsay, servitor to Robert Sinclair.
These were all found to be 'actuall doaris and Committaris'
of the said slaughter at Dunrossness, and having taken the
crime upon themselves, and being fugitive therefor, their
whole goods, gear, and lands were forfeited.
A curious and, one would think, not very relevant
question was brought before the Court by one David Reid,
who desired the 'Testimoniall' of the judge and the assize
whether two persons, Magnus Flett and Gellis Keillo, were
lawfully married, and whether Francis Flett were their lawful
son. The judgment was in the affirmative, whereupon David
asked 'Act of Court.' It does not appear upon what ground
he was entitled to make the inquiry.
The Court assumed jurisdiction over foreigners, who
presumably had something in Shetland to attach, as in the
case against Denneis Sueman of Brahame (Bremen), Herman
Sueman, Zanie Himmel, and Court Mair, a Dutchman,
deceased, in which judgment was pronounced in favour of
the complainer, one Laurence Tulloch, a native residing in
Skelberrie. Herman Sueman appears to have been resident,
or to have had a place of business, in the parish, because
a charge of theft was brought up at another time for fish
stolen from his 'Skeo,' or drying hut (where hard, or
'stock,' fish was cured). But there is no doubt that at this
time Dutch and Hanseatic merchants, the latter chiefly from
Hamburgh and Bremen, were extensively engaged in the
importation of Continental products and the exportation
of fish from Dunrossness. One of these, Garthe Hemlein,
of Bremen, then residing in the parish, and charged as 'airt
and pairt' in the slaughter of Matthew Sinclair already
referred to, is linked with a remarkable episode in Scottish
history — the flight of Bothwell.1
The ancient compurgatorial system still prevailing at
this time, as exemplified in the proceedings of this Court in
the acquittance by the 'Lawright aithe,' the 'sexter' and
the 'twelter aithe,' that is, the oaths of the Lawrightman2
1 After the parting with Queen Mary on Carberry Hill, 15th June 1567,
Bothwell, titular Duke of Orkney, betook himself to the northern isles, and was
entertained in Shetland by Oliver Sinclair of Brew, father of Matthew Sinclair
now murdered. Anticipating the pursuit by Kirkcaldy of Grange, Bothwell took
advantage of Geert Hemelingk's ship, the 'Pelican,' then lading at Sumburgh
Head, and obtained the use of the ship and crew under contract with Hemelingk,
preserved in the Privy Archives of Denmark, and dated 'jnn Schvineborchovett,'
i.e. at Sumburgh Head, the 15th August 1567. The Pelican was taken and
detained in Denmark when the unfortunate Bothwell was seized, and Hemelingk
had to make strenuous efforts to recover her from the Danish Government. A
certificate of his honesty as a merchant since he came to Shetland, given to him
by Olaf Sinclair of Bru, 'Kemener and overste principall van Hidtland,' dated
at Lassefirde (Laxfirth), is also in the Danish Archives. The whole story is told
by Professor Schiern in his Life of James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell; Copenhagen,
1875. Translation by Rev. David Berry, F.S.A. Scot.; Edinburgh, 1880.
2 The Lawrightman (Old Northern Lög-retta-madr, Norse Lögretmand) was
a public official in every parish appointed to look after the rights and interests
of the people, in contradistinction to the Foud (Norse Foged), who was the
resident judge, or 'Bailie,' the representative of government.
of the parish, or of six, or twelve, honest neighbours, as
the case might be, is noteworthy.
The place-names which appear in the records of the
Court are scarcely distinguishable from their modern forms.
But while it cannot be doubted that the body of the present
inhabitants of the district continue to be of the same stock,
it is remarkable how many changes have taken place, and
how few of the persons or families named at this early period
can be traced down to representatives at the present day.
The following names are extinct: —
Blackbeird1 Cumming Parkie
Butter Jirga Bege (a woman) Rattray
Cowpland Keillo Rendaill
Cromartie Louttit Stok
Some of these are still common in Orkney. There are
also some other names not now existing, but which are so
thoroughly Scottish as to seem temporary importations in
the train of the overlord and his dependants.
Most of the respectable natives tried to abstain from
appearing at these Courts, and five of those chosen for the
assize on this occasion were fined for non-appearance. The
following names of parishioners at the time (1602), either
members of the assize, or appearing elsewhere in the proceedings,
may be noted: —
William Bruce of Simbuster.
John Niven of Scousbrughe.
Arthur Sinclair of Aithe.
Malcolm Sinclair of Quendale.
Adam Sinclair of Brew.
Laurence Sinclair of Gott.
Henry Sinclair of Sandwick (App. No. VIII.).
1 The Kirk-Session Records show that the name Blackbeard was continued
in the district so late as 1777 (Grizel Blackbeard, a pauper).
Bruce of Simbuster is now represented in the senior line
by the family of Bruce of Sumburgh, and in the junior by
the Bruces of Symbister. The other families named are all
extinct, and their properties have been swallowed up in larger
There is in existence, so far as known, one record, and
one only, of the names and movements of the people of
Dunrossness at an earlier date than this. At Courts held
at Tingwall in 1576, the householders, or occupants of the
land, in every parish of Shetland were summoned to give
evidence in the trial of Laurence Bruce of Cultemalindie,
the great Foude of Shetland and instrument of the oppressions
of Lord Robert Stewart, first Earl of Orkney of the Stewart
line. Of those appearing from Dunrossness, most are either
patronymics, as Johnssoun, Magnusson, Symondsoun, which,
in the usual fashion of Scandinavia, changed with each generation,
or Christian names merely, as Olaw of Hellyness, Nichole
of Clapwall, Magnus in Skelberrie, Thomas in Mawick.
When a modern surname is given it is so vaguely connected
with a place, or has no place-designation, that identification
with modern residents is impossible. The only name
in this the earliest list of Dunrossness people to be identified as
still locally existing, is that of Gawane Gadie of Lougasettar,
represented by Mr. Gilbert Goudie, Braefield, in the same
neighbourhood.1 But the variations in families and the
changes in the occupancy of any given district in a period
of more than 300 years could be scarcely less marked.
1 The full particulars of the 'Complaints of the Commons and Inhabitants
of Zetland,' 1575-76, and the Probations led thereupon, are preserved in the
General Register House, and are printed by the late Mr. David Balfour of
Balfour and Trenabie, in his Oppressions of the Sixteenth Century in the Islands
of Orkney and Shetland; Maitland Club, 1859. Gawane Gadie's special 'Bill
of Complaynt' appears (pp. 73, 81) to have been, with others, forwarded to the
Regent's Grace and Secret Council, King James VI. being then in minority
and the Earl of Morton in power.
Altogether, apart from the mere exhibition of legalised
oppression by Earl Patrick Stewart, the record of this Dunrossness
Court of 1602 gives us a clear and telling picture of
many incidents of common life in a Shetland parish nearly
300 years ago, albeit presented in sinister and unsympathetic
circumstances. It is set before us in the garb of Scottish
law, and with the simulation of ordinary criminal practice,
through which we see the natives, in sullen helplessness,
moving across the scene, with names, language, and manners
that tell of foreign origin, and modes of life peculiarly their
own, all which continued to be reflected in the lives and
manners of the people in Mill's time, 150 years later.
These deeds, preserved, in the shape of an official copy,
in the Charter-chest at Sumburgh, are of great local interest.
They explain the circumstances of the first settlement in the
district of a family ever since connected with it by large territorial
possession. They also illustrate local conditions at an
important period — 300 years ago, — when the ancient Scandinavian
system was passing away, and a new era of laws, institutions,
landownership, taking its place. We see the fishing
industry, actively prosecuted not only by natives but by
fishers from Orkney and Caithness. The references to the
'New Hall,' otherwise the 'House and fortalice of Soundburgh,'
fix very nearly the date of the erection of the mansion
of 'Jarlshof' of the Pirate, now a ruin. But there is historical
ground, as well as archæological evidence on the spot, to lead
us to believe that this site was an occasional residence of the
Norwegian earls at a very much earlier date, if indeed it was
not that of persons of distinction long before the invasion of
the Norsemen in the ninth century.
The land granted in feu is described as the '20 merks
of Soundburgh, callit Kingis landis,' and other 4 merks,
termed 'Provestis landis' intermixed therewith, still recognised
together as the 24 merks of Sumburgh. The Provostry land, as
explained in a footnote in the APPENDIX, belonged originally
to the Dom Kirke, or Cathedral, of Bergen in Norway. Though
included by the Earl in the feu, with warrandice against any
pretenders to it from Denmark or Norway, some dubiety as
to the effectiveness of the title is apparent, and it was not till
sixty years later, namely in 1662, that the doubt was put at
rest by a deed of confirmation granted by King Frederick III.
of Denmark and Norway, but with an explicit clause of
redemption, all as elsewhere explained.1 So far as merely
legal considerations go, this clause might any day be put in
force, and the four merks be claimed by the sovereign of
Denmark, as representing the ancient Church of Norway!
The claimants from Norway are elsewhere referred to in Sumburgh
deeds as the 'Lordis of Norroway.'
The Earl himself held the Earldom estate only by virtue
of a revocable charter from the Crown, and he had therefore
no right to alienate any portion of the property. But the
time was a confused and troubled one both in Shetland and
at the seat of government. The Earl was hard pressed for
funds to maintain the princely state he assumed. Power was
in his grasp, and he used it, and by these deeds Sumburgh
for ever passed front the heritable dominion of the Crown as
representing the ancient Earldom.
The lands of Sumburgh, which from early times were
1 Paper by the Editor: Notice of a Charter of Confirmation by King
Frederick III. of Denmark and Norway (1662), and other documents in the
Norse Language relating to Shetland. Proceedings S. A. Scot., vol. xiv. (1879)
p. 13.
part of the Earldom estate, were made over to Sir David
Sinclair, son of Earl William St. Clair, by his brothers and
sisters, the other sons and daughters of the Earl, by charter
dated at Edinburgh, 3d Dec. 1498. 1 Sir David, by his Will,
dated at Tingwall, 9th July 1506, bequeathed all his landed
property in Shetland to Lord Sinclair, from whom the lands
of Sumburgh would appear to have passed to the Crown,
and to have continued as part of the succession to the Earldom
until now finally alienated by Earl Patrick Stewart.
William Bruce of Symbister was a Fifeshire gentleman who
came to Shetland as a connection and assistant of Laurence
Bruce of Cultemalindie after the appointment of the latter in
1571 as Great Foude of Shetland under Lord Robert Stewart.
He eventually retired to his native country, where his tomb
remains in Crail churchyard, leaving his Shetland properties
to his eldest son, and the Fife estate to a son by a second
marriage. His grandson, William Bruce, third of Symbister
and Sumburgh, left Sumburgh to his eldest son, Robert
(1642), and Symbister to the second son, Laurence. The two
families have continued distinct to the present day.
It has already been mentioned that this Sinclair of Quendale
held at this time a tack of the vicarage of Dunrossness
granted to him by Laurence Sinclair, 'Vicar and Titular.'
The present deed shows that he also held, in the same
way, various other Church revenues, which are detailed. A
complaint by Mill to the Presbytery of Zetland in 1763
shows that Robert Sinclair of Quendale of that date still
claimed to hold the vicarage of the parish.
1 Charter, printed in Peterkin's Notes; Edinburgh, 1822.
The origin of the Sinclair family of Quendale is involved
in an obscurity which is not likely now ever to be cleared.
Tradition associates them with the ancient family of St.
Clair of the Earldom; and Van Bassan, a Dane, quoted by
Father Hay in his 'Genealogie of the Sinclaires of Roslin,'
compiled in manuscript about the year 1700, gives a highly
fanciful and untrustworthy account of their extraction and
rise. 1 In the end of the sixteenth and in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, they were of first consideration in the
islands. The estate was large, consisting in 1713 of
1311 merks land in Dunrossness,
309 „ do. „ Sandwick,
368 „ do. „ Aith, Cunningsburgh,
with the island of Mousa.
The following representatives of the family can be identified,
viz. —
Malcolm Sinclair of Quendal, Lay Vicar of Dunrossness.
Received the shipwrecked men of the Spanish Armada
in 1588. Died Jany. 6, 1618 (Tombstone).
James Sinclair of Quendal. Died Jany. 29, 1636 (Tombstone).

John Sinclair of Quendal, one of the Commissioners for
Shetland named in Act of Parliament 1661, and again
in 1667.
Laurence Sinclair of Quendal, ditto, 1689.
Robert Sinclair, younger of Quendal, ditto, 1706.
Robert Sinclair of Quendale. Report by George Drummond,
Accountant-General of Excise in North Britain, to
the Commissioners of Excise, bearing that, having
inspected the books of the said Robert Sinclair, then
Cashier of Excise, he found him short £847, 2s. 9½d.
applied to his own uses. Report dated 16th June
1 Genealogie of the Saintclaires of Roslin (Edinburgh, 1835), p. 172.
1713, recorded 17th March 1718. This is the laird of
Quendal frequently under the anathema of Mill in
the earlier part of the Diary. He was alive in 1763,
and was succeeded by his son,
John Sinclair of Quendale. By this time the family
fortunes had become very low. Sequestration was
awarded, according to Mill, in 1750. A Scheme of
Division among the creditors was prepared, 15th May
1765, and the whole estate was exposed by public
roup, 26th February 1770. The larger portions were
bought by Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh and Mr. Grierson.

The Discharge by Earl Patrick to Malcolm Sinclair is
in my possession, gifted to me by the late Mr. Andrew
Smith, Lerwick, uncle of his Grace the present Archbishop of
St. Andrews and Edinburgh.
This is introduced as a brief and fragmentary local
chronicle by a Shetland clergyman almost contemporary with
Mill, but of a very different school. After the Revolution
Settlement in 1688 and following years, the leading families
in Shetland appear to have maintained their adherence to
Episcopacy; and, though that communion was practically
proscribed, they retained the services of clergymen of their
own views under all the disabilities to which such clergymen
were subjected. Mr. Hunter was the last so retained, and
his Diary shows the families to whom his itinerant ministrations
were addressed, the baptisms and marriages at which he
officiated, and the donations he received for his 'encouragement'
and support. His position appears to have been a poor and
dependent one, though his patrons were not unmindful of
his need of creature comforts, as his accounts show. His
record is altogether profoundly different in style and spirit
from that of his orthodox Presbyterian contemporary, Mill;
but the facts noted, from which a few extracts as examples
are given, are by no means devoid of interest.
Hunter was the author of a somewhat scurrilous and
doggerel epic called Laxo's Lines, framed on the model of
Hudibrus, and not altogether suitable for publication. An
abridged copy is in my possession.
Hunter was the last Episcopal clergyman in Shetland
until the restoration of that communion at the consecration
of St. Magnus Church in Lerwick in 1864. His residence
at Dunrossness appears to have been at Sumragarth, but he
was constantly on the move among the families who sympathised
with him, and probably a good deal at Lerwick,
then a growing town. 'St. Barnaby's Chapel' is sometimes
alluded to. Certain indications would lead to the inference
that this was somewhere in Dunrossness, but the
Rev. J. B. Craven, author of the History of the Episcopal
Church in Orkney, says that the chapel was in Lerwick,
where its ruins are still to be seen 'below the present parsonage'
(p. 130).
Neither Mill's Diary nor the Kirk-Session Minutes, which
were penned by him, throw light upon the state of Education
in the district during the time covered by these writings,
viz., the second half of last century. All that can be gathered
from occasional references is that a 'School' was in existence
in the parish, locality not named, and also in the Fair
The consideration that a work professing to treat of
parochial life in any district during a former period, and
ignoring the state of educational arrangements at the time,
would overlook an interest of vital import, has induced me to
investigate the earliest sources of information available on
the subject.
So early as the year 1724 it had been resolved at a meeting
of heritors at Lerwick that a school should be established
in every parish, and funds provided for the purpose. The
effort was creditable to all concerned, but the attempt to
put it in force was only partially successful owing to the
poverty of the country and the apathy of individuals.
Education continued at a low ebb all through the islands,
and its state would have been still worse had not the Society
in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge come to
the rescue.
The records of this Society, and the earliest Parliamentary
Returns bearing upon the subject, so far as known to me,
have been laid under contribution, and I believe that the
earliest information now attainable is embodied in the extracts
from these and other authentic sources given in the
The facts disclosed show a state of Education poor enough.
The salaries of the S.P.C.K. schoolmasters, originally (in
1774) as low as £3 stg. per annum, were advanced in
1780 to £7 and £10, and in 1810 reached £14 and £15,
with sometimes a dwelling-house besides. The maximum,
£18, was attained in 1849. The cost of instruction was
usually about 2s. 6d. per quarter for reading, writing, and
arithmetic, beyond which the curriculum did not extend.
The attendance of both boys and girls seems to have been
It is only just to Mill's memory to explain that he was
not satisfied with this state of matters. Whenever opportunity
offered, as when he was a member of the General
Assembly in 1765, he laboured with enlightened zeal for
having Education placed upon a proper parochial basis, but
with indifferent success. There appears to have been but
one parochial school in the three parishes, on the strictly legal
footing, until the recent establishment of the School Boards
under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872.
1739] [1740
…1 promise for this end. But being cast away on
the coast of England by a great storm when attempting to
return home in the month of April, this design miscarried,
for the Earl Morton,2 going over said year to Zetland in
quest of wrecked money, settled another who had accompanied
him there with this view. Meantime I wrote a letter to my
Uncle's Relict, which she showed to his Lordship, giving an
account of his promise. But he put it off with this, that as
I was not present the Parish must be supplied with a minister,
and I should have the next settlement. However, having
demitted my charge at Cullen, and meeting with a brother-in--
law at Aberdeen on his return home from London, I made
a trip to Zetland with him in 1740, but finding another settled
at Lerwick3 I looked upon it then as a great disappointment,
but found afterwards it was rather a kind Providence.
1 The introductory portion of the narrative is lost.
2 The Earl of Morton was at this time lord superior of the islands, in possession
of what remained of the land and revenues of the Earldom of Orkney
and Lordship of Shetland. This ancient inheritance had passed from the old
Norwegian Earls to their successors of 'the lofty line of high St. Clair,' and
from the latter to the Crown by the deed of excambion with Earl William St.
Clair in 1471. Lord Morton in the course of time obtained possession, in
virtue of successive charters from the Crown, and had thus the patronage of most
of the parishes. The Earldom and Lordship were acquired by Sir Lawrence
Dundas, ancestor of the Earls of Zetland, by purchase, in 1766, for £63,000.
3 The Rev. Thomas Miller, M.A., son of Thomas Miller, notary-public, Alyth.
Called to Lerwick 7th Nov. 1739. He died 1766. — (Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ.)
Having visited my friends and taken a view of the countrey,
I returned in September by a vessel bound for Aberdeen, and
had been thrust in by a cross wynd very providentially from
Norway, as I knew of no other occasion. In my way to my
friend's house from Aberdeen, I called at a minister's house who
proposed my being assistant to the minister of Pitsligo in
Buchan, who was then thought to be in a dying condition.
My friends relished the offer, expecting to get me settled in
the minister's place if he died, and the gentleman who had
some connexion with my friends and nephew to the patron,
being on his journey from Edinbro to the north, was addressed
by the Gordons at Old Aberdeen proferring him a sinecure of
£50 Ster. p. an. in their gift provided he obtained a presentation
in favours of a friend of theirs, which he embraced and
gave his promise, not knowing of the design formed in my
favours. The minister recovered by means of a receipt I
obtained from the Countess of Findlater, and lived many years
after, whereby they met likewise with a disappointment. My
friends had obtained the promise of an Itineracy of £25 per
annum of the King's Bounty at Keith where severals of them
lived and nigh to that; and, when my credentials were ready
to be sent south upon my coming forth to the ministry, the
Dutchess of Gordon 1 prevailed on the Managers to grant it in
favours of another. However Providence so ordered that
was settled before either of these young men.
During my 16 months' stay at Pitsligo, having the whole
charge of the parish, and being oft called to preach at Sacrament
occasions in the summer time, though it bore hard upon
a beginner, yet wrought for good. Adversity tries men, and
'tis good to bear the yoke in youth. Meantime the Earl of
Findlater2 wrote me from London signifying that he had
obtained the Earl of Morton's promise of a presentation to a
Kirk in Zetland, and that I should repair thither with all
1 Duchess of Gordon. The widow of Alexander, second Duke, who was
implicated in the rising of 1715, and died in 1728. She survived till 1760.
2 Earl of Findlater. Family of Ogilvy of Deskford, who possessed the title
till it became dormant in 1811, on the death of James, seventh Earl. The reference
here is to James, the fifth Earl.
convenient speed. But as I understood the Laird that paid
the stipend out of the tithes uplifted by him was such a tyrant
and oppressor1 as obliged two ministers to remove to other
parishes by transportation, and glad to be rid of him through
bad usage, I wrote the Earl by post that I did not chuse to
go there, and would rather put up with a less income to live
in peace. Meantime Lord Morton's Factor writing me not to
fear going to Dunrossness, seeing matters were now put upon
another footing than formerly by a factory granted in favours
of young Quendal his son, who had a good character, and though
my Father's friends were anxious to have me settled among
them, yet, as nothing did then cast up, they advised me to go,
hoping to get me transported, which probably might have
been effected, to a parish vacant in 1745, where my principal
friend had an estate; but no accounts could be got thereof
during the rebellion that brok out that year.
Though I arrived in Zetland June 1742, and preached to
the people of the parish all the winter, I yet was not settled
till April 1743, during which time I met with two Remarkable
Dangers and Deliverances. One evening discoursing with Mr.
Robert Scollay, Merchant in Lerwick, and smoaking a pipe
of strong tobacco, all of a sudden my stomach turned, which
made me throw up, and while standing before the fire fell down
suddenly by a swerf 2 or stoppage of blood, as if shot throw
the head. Providentially a web of cloth (Mr. Scollay observed)
had been lien at the end of the room, and was brought up
and laid upon an arm chair that day at the fireside, which
saved my head from being crushed in the fall upon that chair.
Another time, going from Lerwick to Cunningsburgh in
a boat, the side of the boat was laid under water by a sudden
flan3 off Bressay Head, and the man who managed the sail had
not the presence of mind to let it go. Finding the water
1 A tyrannical heritor. This was Sinclair of Quendale, representative of an
ancient family now extinct, specially referred to elsewhere in the Diary, and in
the Introduction and Appendix.
2 Swerf, Old Northern Svarfa, used reflexively as to be turned upside down.
3 Flan, the usual Shetland term for a squall. Old Northern Flan.
rushing in about my leggs, I cried out 'Lord preserve us!'
It pleased God the boat suddenly recovered, otherwise, in less
than a minute's time, we had been all drowned. It was a
rebuke for my presumption in going with the boat when dissuaded
by some gentlemen, and one of these a friend.
I found one of my Kirks in ruins1 and no manse, which
obliged me to put up with quarters in the house of a gentleman
disaffected to Church and State,2 which with a numerous and
extensive parish occasioned a struggle with many difficulties for
several years; during which time I was seized with a sciatica
pain in my left thigh which oft deprived me of night's rest and
rose to such height as made me cry out. How terrible must the
case of the damned in hell be that are racked in soul and body
to eternity. This falling out on a Saturday night, at my
quarters in the north parish,3 I was not able to preach the next
day, and desired a messenger going to Lerwick to send me one
of the surgeons belonging to the Man of War that lay in Bressay
Sound. He said, though they might know how to dress a green
wound yet were probably ignorant of the nature of my trouble,
which made me cheerfully resign to Providence to continue or
remove it, as seemed good in His sight. The same night the
Lord put it into my landladies head to desire me try some
warm thing. I asked her meaning. She replied, it was to
clap a hot bath of earth under the place affected. This
looked so feasible that I bid her bring it, which done I fell
asleep, and when I awaked found a sensible abatement of
the pain. By repeated hot baths I was put into a sweat
that lasted 48 hours, wasted the substance of my body,
coloured my day shirt that covered a scarlet vest with the
dy, and made my bigg coat which I lay down with, as if it
had been washed in the sea. However it proved a mean of
recovering to such degree that I preached next Sabbath,
and though much of the root of the disease remained, yet
1 Cross-Kirk at Quendale, the former parish church of Dunrossness. The
present church was opened in 1791.
2 Sinclair of Quendale.
3 The North Parish, i.e. Sandwick, which with Cunningsburgh was, and still
is, included in the 'Ministry' of Dunrossness.
(blessed be a good and gracious God) didn't hinder the discharge
of any part of my function, which was my greatest
fear. However it keeped me for two years in a weak and
infirm state; and when two Swedish East India ships were
wrecked, the one at Lerwick and the other in this parish,1 in
the latter end of 1744, I quitted my room to accomodate
some of the stranger gentlemen at Quendal, and betook myself
to a closet without fire, whereby the cold revived the
trouble again, and seized me in a violent manner at my
quarters in the North Parish, a second time, which disabled
me for work several weeks.
Meantime young Quendal payd me a visit and proposed
the drinking of tar water, which at first seemed whimsical,
but as the former cure had no effect at this time and being
persuaded that Providence had put it into his head, I was
satisfied to make trial, especially as I found that Bishop Barclay
in his receipt mentions tar water as a remedy for the sciatick
— and caused my landlord prepare some of the Norway tar
accordingly; and, what is very remarkable, I found a sensible
abatement of the pain. Every Sabbath morning, being about
the same time of that day, I was seized with a severe fit of
it, till such time as it went off. However I continued drinking
the water all winter, and in the beginning of the Springtime,
my skin struck out in a sudden ruff — a sensible vigour
in my constitution ensued, which I had not felt for a long
time, attended with a strong appetite, and after purging
away of the noxious humour, was as clean and whole as ever,
and never felt the least tincture of the distemper since,
except a little dindling [?] by extraordinary colds that I ever
knew any affected with that distemper ever got free of it.
I desire to kiss the rod that smites. He does not afflict,
nor grieve the children of men willingly, nor for His pleasure,
but people's profit, to make them partakers of his holiness
that they may share in his happiness. And blessed be his
great and glorious name who was pleased to open my eyes to
1 A ship of Stockholm, wrecked on the west side of the parish. Tales are
still told of the quantities of spirits and other stores clandestinely seized by
read in my sin the punishment; nay, and made it a means to
mortify and cure me in some measure of a secret lust that
had too much prevailed to God's dishonour and my own
In the latter part of the year 1745 the rebellion broke
out in favours of a Popish Pretender.1 They got the better
of a small number of troops at Preston Pans. The action at
Falkirk seemed a drawn battle. In the beginning of 1746
they went to England, and took in their way the town
and Castle of Carlisle, which success in the beginning so
flushed the Jacobite party, and drew many forth to their
ruin (that otherwise would not have joined their army);
their strong confidence everywhere boasting as if it were a
gained cause gave me strong hopes that God would blast
their designs, which was done in the Battle of Culloden,
by means of the Duke of Cumberland in April thereafter;
for 'tis the glory of the Most High to pour contempt on
vain men who speak as they would have it without regard
or submission to His sovereign pleasure, letting them know
that wherein they dealt proudly He was above them; and
instead of over-throwing our happy Constitution in Church
and State (as they designed) served only to settle it on a
surer basis.
In the year 1747, being chosen one of the Commissioners
to represent the Presbytery in the General Assembly, I
went for the north to visit my father's friends at same time,
and preached oft there, as also at Edinbro and Glasgow;
as my sermons were taking with the generality of hearers,
the vain heart began to swell, and though not sensible of
it, yet met with a severe rebuke of Providence when, preaching
and praying in the Tolbooth Church at Edinburgh,
I was put into great confusion and disorder, which several
1 The Rebellion of 1745. Some of the leading families had Jacobite leanings,
but Shetland was too far from the scene to be seriously involved. The Scandinavian
temperament had nothing in common with the Highland enthusiasm for
the Stuart family.
took notice of. The light of a large window flashing in my
face, with the gayety of the congregation, so unusual, might
have some influence; but I took it from God as a just judgment,
and it proved a mean of making me more cautious
afterwards, to throw off all base slavish fear of man, to set
myself to act withal as under God's eye and seek his honour
and not my own.
I waited long for an occasion homeward and as two ships
were making ready I let the 1st go off, because of some graceless
passengers, choosing rather to take passage with a ship
belonging to my own parish. But I soon repented of this as I
was several weeks detained by cross winds, and the indisposition
of the ship master, who behaved notwithstanding in a rude
manner obligeing me to ly upon my own trunk in the Cabin,
while he keeped his own bed. But 'tis observable that in his
passage to Hamburgh that same winter, the sea broke into his
cabin. Upon his return the vessel was wrecked in the harbour,
and himself carried off the stage. He called for me on his
deathbed, and told me in a very unconcerned manner that all
behoved to go the same road. True, said I, but men don't
die as beasts, for there will be a remarkable difference and
separation 'twixt saints and sinners at death and the great
In the year 1750 Quendal's estate was sequestrate. This
family had been inveterate enemies to the Gospel and its
ministers, and though they are suffered to prevail for some
time for a scourge to the wicked, and to exercise and try
the faith and patience of God's saints, yet the vengeance of
Heaven overtakes them at last; their memories rot and perish
with themselves. Thou puttest away the wicked as dross.
This Robert Sinclair of Quendal cast a careless account,
saying he would get his own time of it, but found himself
mistaken. He had keeped me from Kirk and Manse hitherto
and obliged me to preach in the open air during the
Rebellion, saying I should not pray against his King; nor
get a Kirk till he pleased; but I said I wou'd have a Kirk
when God pleased, whether he would or not; and so it
came to pass soon after, and was built by his own son
too,1 where he met besides with one of the greatest affronts of
his lifetime. He sat down at this Kirk of Sandwick on the
mast of a wrecked ship, threatening to carry it off by force.
Meantime the magistrate came with a party, obliged him
to rise, and carried it off; and, for his further mortification,
one Horrie whom he had oft employed as a publick Notary
in his drunken fits to keep off his creditors from getting their
just debts etc., being appointed as factor on his sequestrated
estate by the Lords of Session, this occasioned a bitter enmity
and bone of contention. My stipend had been poorly paid before
and little better now by this factor who had on many occasions
discovered a malignant temper and hatred of Gospel. My sister
told me he was going through Lerwick with company, drinking
the rents and tythes, and that if I didn't go to him [I]
would get nothing. I told her I would make him come to me;
and having called a messenger to give him a charge of horning,
he came in all haste, and paid a good sum; and being assured
that if he did not pay me pointedly at every term, I would
give him a charge and cause him pay interest for the same,
which made him more tame and friendly ever after, according
to the nature of the spaniel tribe, that are more acted [on]
from a principle of fear than conscience or fear of God.
By this time an horning was executed at my instance
against the heritors, both for Kirk and manse; and very
providentially a large vessel from Norway loaded with wood
for Irland, was put into Quendal bay by a cross wind and
by a great storm driven ashore and wrecked below the Ness
Kirk, which is never plenished with seats to this day, though
the people would have cheerfully paid for them. The wood
was sold off for profit. However the Kirk of Sandwick and
manse of Dunrossness were built with wood [out of it].
The Kirk should have been built first, but as I had a booth
to preach in [I] preferred the manse, which was built in 1751
and furnished in 1752; but more suddenly burnt down on a
Saturday night in November said year when I was at Quendal.
But as no fire was put on that day, and nobody in the
1 This new kirk was the church of Sandwick. The new Dunrossness church
was not built till forty years later.
house that night, the kindling of the fire is like to remain a
secret. The servants in the kitchen were awaked Sabbath
morning by the crackling of the slates, whereby I lost to the
value of £130 sterling, by computation, of books, cloathes
and almost all sorts of furniture new, eatables and drinkables,
besides extraordinary charges laid out on the Manse. Rebuilding
the Manse, together with the office houses, garden dyke
etc., all paid out of my own pocket, amounted to the sum of
£200 stg. and upwards. Many condoled my loss, but I told
them a man never lost much till he lost his soul, which was
an irreparable loss; whereas, if I was spared, God would soon
make up this loss in like or better things; and blessed be his
worthy name, I found so to experience.
It pleased God to shake the rod over my head (as it were)
and give warning, to show how loath he was to inflict this
heavy stroke; for having one night got a fire in the closet
to prevent my books and cloathes being damaged by the
damp air while I was drinking tea in a room below, a stone
at the back of the chimney gave an explosion like the fireing
of a gun, and drove the fire with the iron grate on the loft
floor, which I took for something falling in the garret by the
mice; but seeing a bright light through a crevice in the loft,
and calling to mind the fire in the closet I immediately run
upstairs, and finding the diningroom filled with smoke,
and some English blankets on fire that had been set to dry,
nay, and some of the floor burnt through, I got all quenched
by the tongs, (which blistered my hands with the excessive
heat) without any further damage at that time. And tho'
this made a little impression, yet it soon wore off, and I went
on frowardly, still sinking gradually into a worldly frame,
and little sensible of the great need the best Christians have
of applying to the Lord Jesus Christ dayly, and living in
a close dependence on the Grace treasured up in Him, for
mortifying indwelling corruptions and strengthening weak
graces to carry on a work of sanctification through the whole
course of our lives. When this awful and alarming providence
aroused me out of my slumber it pleased God in great mercy
and tender compassion to set His Holy Spirit at work for
circumcising my carnal heart, for tho' sin was already beat
down from the higher faculties of the soul, yet had taken
strong root in the affections, which I was not then aware of.
His first operations seemed to resemble the ticks of a
pendulum clock, giving at first one, and thereafter two or
more touches at the same time, which, though a little uneasy,
and my body so weaken'd by excessive fasting that I could
scarce walk, yet was glade the Lord condescended to take
so much pains upon a polluted worm, for rectifying mistakes
and reforming all disorders of soul, tending so greatly to its
prosperity and its advancement in the spiritual life, that I
would not have exchang'd conditions with most people I
saw, even in elevated stations of life, when matters were at
the lowest pass. Hence that gracious promise was fulfilled
to blest experience — He makes all things, even the most cross
and grating to flesh and blood, work together for good to
them that love God etc. This is a great mystery to the
blinded graceless world, who call such things by the names of
enthusiasm, fanaticism and New lights, without knowing
what they say or affirm, as natural brute beasts speak evil of
the things they don't understand; for as the Apostle speaks,
the natural man understands not the things of the Spirit
of God, and are looked upon as foolishness, because he is a
fool himself. The wisdom from beneath is earthly etc.; the
wisdom from above is pure etc., they are quite opposite.
Meantime the Providence of God brought reasonably to
hand several treatises saved from the flames, that proved of
great use, namely Goodwine's Child of Light walking in darkness
— Allan's Godly Fear — Carmichael on Mortification, which
doctrine I was much a stranger to at this time. But no sooner
did the Lord open my eyes and heart than prevalent sins came
flying in my conscience like so many fiery serpents, which
galled it exceedingly, and convinced me to purpose of the
great subtilty, deceit and strength of indwelling sin which
wars against the soul. The Lord was pleased to draw me to
himself with the chords of Love, by means of His Blissed
Word when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, as
commonly such as are free of gross sins are. But presuming
too much upon my being in a justified state, reconciled,
pardoned and freed from condemnation etc., made me grow
presumptuous and secure, hereby abusing the grace of God,
if not to licentiousness, yet to too great freedoms and want of
caution 'gainst spiritual enemies, which provock'd the Lord to
lay me at this time under a strong Law-work, whereby I was
made sensible what an evil and bitter thing 'tis to depart from
the living God, and prove guilty of such base ingratitude for
numberless distinguishing mercies. This consideration grieved
me to the heart, that I should be so long in Christ, and yet so
little of the good work carried on that I seemed rather for
some time past to have been razing the foundation. Repent
and do thy first works, lest I come and spue thee out of my
mouth, was very applicable to my present case, and I felt so
much of the gall, bitterness and wormwood of Sin that, had
my body been burning in a fire, I would have made no account
of that in comparison of the hell I felt at this time in my
conscience; yet was absolutely necessary to make one stand
more in aw of offending so good and gracious a God for the
future, that I might walk more tenderly, strictly and conscientiously
before that God in whose hands are our breath and
all our comforts. Thou wast a God that pardoned our
iniquities, though thou tookest vengeance on our inventions.
In this condition I went for Fair Isle May 1753, in order
to administer the Sacrament to that people, which I could
never get the itinerant minister to undertake. A Dutch
fishing Vessel took us on board, together with our boat, in
Quendal Bay, and brought us within a few miles of the Isle,
and then put out our boat etc. The wind and tide was
contrary, the night coming on and a mist forming on the top
of the Isle. I was seized with a strong fear, as if the Lord was
going to cast us away, which made me entertain constant
discourse with the boatsmen on pious subjects; and growing
cold, I desired them to put me ashore at the north harbour
which lay nearest.
Upon landing I began to muse, on my way to the houses,
and was suddenly filled with a rapture of heavenly joy, which
made the cry out in praise to my kind and gracious Saviour,
the sweet and lovely Jesus, who had hereby dispelled all my
doubts and fears, and given such courage and strong confidence
in Him. After walking almost the length of the Isle, I came
to the largest Village, and finding the people in bed, knocked
at one of the doors where smoke ascended from the fire, which
to my great surprise proved the Kirk Officer's house, who got
up in all haste, and conveyed me to the baillie's house, where
I lodged. I first examined all the people, and then the communicants,
and preached about 19 times during the twenty days
I remained there, yet was wonderfully upheld and carried
through — blessed be His worthy name who increases strength
to them that have no might.
Though I was never in such a weak habit of body, having
made my Testament a little before, and bequeathed most of
my substance to pious uses, considering as I had my All from
God, [I] should devote it to His service, especially as I had no
children of my own at this time, therefore bequeathed £100
ster. to the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge;
another £100 ster. to the Grammar School at Lerwick, the
place of my nativity, which also stands much in need; £20
ster. to the Poor of Cullen of Boyn, where I was Schoolmaster
for seven years, and £20 to the Poor of my own Parish,
besides what I left to a cousin german and a nephew, who
were my name sons, and would still be desirous to have something
to leave for these, or such like pious uses, over and above
providing for my own, in a competent measure.
Upon my Settlement in April 1743, I found the people
generally rude and ignorant. Mr. Gray, one of the oldest
ministers in the countrey, came to my ordination, beyond all
our expectations, and contrary to his friends' inclinations, as
he was valetudinary. He told me as he advanced he found
himself gradually mending. My father was the first whose
head he had laid his hand on — I would be the last, and was
persuaded it was the work of God he came about. He kept
up pretty well for several years after this. What knowledge
my people had of the principles of religion from the Catechisms
was mostly by rote, which induced me to procure many
copies of Crawford and Vincents for helps to understand them,
which, through the divine blessing, together with hearing
of sermons and examinations brought both young men and
maids to such degree of knowledge that they could scarce be
put out upon any practical question of Divinity in whatever
shape it was proposed. They understood the sense and meaning,
and several, 'tis hoped, live in an habitual practice of these
truths. Nay, some discover'd the Spirit of God had been at
work with them, which cheared me not a little, in hopes of
further success, the want whereof had thrown a great damp
on my spirits, least all the pains taken should be in vain,
and their souls lost and undone for ever. This made me defer
the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper for six years, though I
had other discouragements from the want of house, communion
cups, tables, and other utensils necessary. But as there seems
to be an unusual stir among the people upon such occasions,
which probably may flow also, in some measure, from the
solemnity wherewith the ordinance is gone about, therefore
am resolved to give it as oft as possible, while any good effects
are discovered thereby.
Among the first celebrations of this ordinance a young girl
came to my room with tears in her eyes, saying I didn't
know her; she meaned, as to the state of her soul, which she
described in such a plain and ingenuous manner as made me perceive
she had been with Jesus; and what is very remarkable,
while I was employed in examination work, some time after this,
being obliged to take a different route from what I intended,
and go by a bridge, because of a swell in the burn, providentially
the same girl saw me, and came running and signifying
her gladness in meeting with me, to solve her doubts concerning
her spiritual state, because she found her heart more wicked
and vile than ever, and therefore concluded it was worse with
her than formerly. I told her that had been my own case,
but herein she was in a mistake, for at conversion we see more
dimly, afterwards more clearly, like the man whose eyes Christ
besmeared with clay. Sin rises at first view, like molehills,
but afterwards like mountains, when our inbred corruptions
are further stirred up by fresh measures and degrees of grace
and light in the understanding. I asked her how she came to
discover these evils she was ignorant of before; as blind
sinners, who are dead in trespasses and sins, are utterly
insensible of the plagues of their own evil hearts, as was
evident of her graceless neighbours, who made no complaints
of this nature; which served not only to stop her mouth but
yielded her no small comfort upon due reflection. She was
afterwards matched with a young man of the same stamp,
who had both an eye herein to the Apostle's direction of not
being unequally yoked with unbelievers.
This young man foresaid made a complaint to me at an
examination, in the year 1753, upon a neighbour for taking the
name of God in vain, and imprecating damnation upon him.
But though the crime could not be made out by proof, yet
being persuaded of the truth thereof, I gave him a private
rebuke, and warned him of his great danger, unless timeously
prevented by genuine repentance, which he promised to set
about; and afterwards desiring to have his first child baptized,
I asked him if he had repented in good earnest of the foresaid
heinous crime. He replied that he had, according to his
ability; and as the house where he stayed lay in my way to
the North parish I called on the Saturday, and again put the
same question previous to the baptism of the child, before
all the people present, and he made the same answer as
before. After the baptism he brought a dram, and offering to
take it without a blessing asked, I checked him. The fellow
trembled, and was in great confusion, which made me suspect
he had lied in saying he had sought pardon from God, and was
adding sin to sin rather. After leaving the house, I was informed
that, soon forgetting what had been told him, he gave loose
reins to daft mirth; and going out, was suddenly struck dead
at the peat stack.
Next morning one came and told me that the man whose
child I had yesterday baptised was lying a corpse, which coming
fresh to remembrance during the sermon, I laid the whole
matter, as it stood, before the congregation, warning all thereby
to guard against that heinous sin, as they would wish to
escape God's righteous judgment.
In the year 1754 the manse being again repaired, at my own
proper charges, least the walls should go to wreck, as I knew
my heritors wouldn't grant a farthing this way, unless compelled
by law, and the issue of a process was uncertain. Besides,
the patron had promised to make me up from the vacant
stipends, which were upwards of £2000 Scots. As I didn't
choose to keep house alone, and finding none suitable to my
inclinations here I proposed to look out for one at Edinburgh
etc. where I was chosen to go as Commissioner to the General
However I did not neglect my native countrey, and made
suit to some who seemed of the best kind, but was mistaken
in them. One of them was addressed by one of the
best estates in the country, who drew her to balls and daft
mirth. But he and all his Brothers were cut off by a sudden
stroke,1 yet this awful providence made little impression. She
ventured to match with a worse, both as to character and estate,
though I warned her of the danger, and finding her resolute,
said she might take her swing. She wanted to be a Lady, and
get Madam at any rate; but finding little pleasure in it, soon
repented of what she could not help. She had convictions;
but finding all in vain, it made me weep, that, being so nigh,
[she] should come short of the Kingdom of God. Nay,
she discovered so much of the disposition of the Old Serpent
that, perceiving my wife's pious inclinations, she pressed hard
to get her dance with her and daft companions at Lerwick,
saying there was no harm in it, though her constitution
was then broke, and only a little before her death. My wife
told her she might be doing, if she had freedom to dance,
but she had none. Another I addressed proved meantime
with child to a relation. She afterwards married though her
friends were against it, and would have preferred me before
him, yet reckoned myself much obliged to her for rejecting
the proposal, as I would not for the whole world she had
embraced it.
As 'tis harder to know women who are more upon the
reserve than men who act more openly in the world, the conduct
of those two bred a disgust indeed, but had this good
effect, that I was more apt to distrust my own judgment, and
1 The reference here is to the four sons of Thomas Gifford of Busta — John,
Robert, William, and Hay — who were drowned by the upsetting of their boat in
crossing Busta Voe, on 14th May 1748. The text shows that the writing is
retrospective, both as regards this incident and the subsequent reference to his
commit myself to a Kind Providence for direction in an affair
of this nature, desiring He might blast my proposals, or not,
as He saw cause for the future, chusing rather to have one
truly good and gracious than for money, which the blind graceless
world seeks mostly after in bargains of this kind. Therefore
a disappointment of this kind afterwards gave me little
or no concern, though I met with them in the north, when
visiting my friends, and at Edinburgh, and Glasgow. The
greatest objection I found was the great distance, and leaving
their friends.
In 1754, assisting at Sacramental occasion at Cumbuslang,
preached to about 8000 who behaved decently all the time.1
The minister that was conjunct-commissioner from
Presbytery was married before me, and this proved an introduction
to my marriage with a young lady who came to visit
us, when I was Bridgroom's best man (as they are called).
We conveyed her home, and had an invitation to drink tea
with her in the afternoon, which we accepted, and by frequent
converse together discovered such a tincture of real piety, and
finding she had one of the best characters from well disposed
people who knew her, I condescended at length that my
brother's wife should make the proposal, which she was so very
eager for, and gave her the preference to her own friends, who
were indeed well-looked ladies; but she said they were too
much set upon the gaieties of the Town, and would not suit
my temper and manner of life so well as Miss Thompson.2
This appeared so ingenuous and disinterested as served to
confirm me in the choice, and soon found to experience, blessed
be His worthy name, I was not disappointed. Besides, this
match proved a mean of bringing me into acquaintance with
several pious and judicious christians, of different states and
conditions in life, which has been a great comfort to me since,
1 This is suggestive of the great Cambuslang revival. But that movement
was some years earlier. The sentence is an interlineation, and the date may be
a mistake.
2 She was a daughter of Bailie Thompson, Edinburgh.
and of great use in the common concerns of life, as none but
those of this stamp are much to be trusted where the world
is concerned.
After preaching at South Leith, one of the minister's wives
there being under great trouble of mind, and, desiring to speak
with me, she employed a gentlewoman of my acquaintance to
invite me to afternoon's tea at her house, desiring to converse
with me anent her spiritual state, I found her in great agonies
of conscience, almost at the brink of despair, though formerly
she had been a professor, and as she fancied in a hopeful
way. She applied all the threatenings (as usual in such cases)
to herself, but could take no comfort from the promises.
I recommended besides several books suitable to her state,
and met with her afterwards at a fellowship meeting at
Edinburgh, where most that were present, both young and old,
talked freely of their experiences, which made her cry out —
'Tis well with you, but oh! I'm in a lamentable condition!
Thus she continued for some time, till the Lord's time came
to give peace. When He gives quietness none can hinder,
and when He hides his face etc.
In this Society I met with an old experienced Christian,
one Mrs. Keil, who had gone through various trials, and
seemed to have Scriptures at hand suitable to each. She caught
me by the sleeve after coming out from preaching in the
College Kirk1 at Edinburgh, where I was providentially called
to preach (through sudden indisposition of the minister who
was to have preached), by an application in the forenoon,
a little before I entered the pulpit of the Trone Church, to
preach there. It pleased the Lord to carry me through with
much spirit and liveliness, and the Sermon seemed to have had
a good effect upon this exercis'd Christian, who was very urgent
to have me with her that night, or the next day, to a fellow
ship meeting, which I did not chuse to do with a stranger
in a strange place, and therefore told her I was going of tomorrow
for Glasgow. But upon my return and marriage, my
1 The Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, Edinburgh, founded by Queen
Mary of Gueldres in 1462. Taken down, for the formation of the east railway
approach to the Waverley Station, in 1848.
wife and I, being called to the above meeting, found her there.
I know of no better method to keep up the true spirit of
Christianity and mutual edification than by these sort of meetings:
as iron sharpens iron etc.
Being called at this time to preach again in the Tolbooth
Church during the indisposition of both ministers, I found to
comfortable experience, the great advantage of relying on
Divine aid, aiming at His honour and following his conduct,
for my sermon had the approbation of all the hearers.
We had long waited an opportunity of returning home.
At last a small vessel offered, and as I was anxious to be at
my charge, determined to risk all. My dear wife would by
no means stay behind, though her friends were averse to
going at this season of the year, and though her comrades.
and friends seemed resolute against her going at first, yet,
when it came to the push they proved the reverse.
We set out in the end of December 1754 and had as fine a
passage as if it had been in the height of summer; and O
what a signal mercy it was, considering the poor women were
unaccustomed to sea voyages. While others were talking of
risk and danger, I was not only serene and composed but
enabled to look with contempt on winds and waves as being
persuaded they had no power over me, but what was given
from above.
I left my wife at Lerwick till the manse was got in order
for her reception; supposing a married state would ease me in
a great measure of worldly cares. But I soon found it rather
increased them. The charge of repairing the manse straitened
a little, but we soon got over it. The greatest plague was
with cross-grained naughty servants, being thievish and mischievous,
and liker wild beasts than Christians. My wife
being of a delicate constitution couldn't bear the fatigues of a
labouring and obstinacy of such wretches as neither feared God
or regarded man. However, providentially, I was put upon a
better method of setting of my land in halvers and keeping
only one servant in the house, whereby I had more profit and
less trouble. I endeavoured through grace to deal faithfully
with the consciences of all sorts, which was not without effect,
though not in a saving manner. I found a strong stress laid
upon ordinances, especially the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper,
as if it was a charm to save them, though they lived in sin;
and the strongest arguments tending to prove the contrary,
that it rather increased and aggravated their guilt, yet can't
beat this delusion out of their heads. Nay, though God struck
a healthy young man suddenly dead, who presumed to come
to the Lord's table while he was living in whoredom, as afterwards
appeared, and the people were publickly warned to take
heed of sinning in like manner.
Meantime Satan raged exceedingly, and got actual possession
of two poor women and a man. One of the women was
mute, and made no answer to what I said; and a friend
asking her quietly the reason, she said Satan would not suffer
her to speak, which indeed I suspected. Then Satan seemed
to make use of her tongue and said — The pulpit was upon
the South Side of the Kirk. I said it would continue there
as long as God pleased. He said I made lies upon him, for
which I called him (as indeed he was) a damned rascal for his
lying impudence, and that I spoke the truth, which he cared
not for. While I spoke to the poor woman, he said I had no
business with her, — that she was Satan's. I told him he could
be assured of none till they were actually damned. While I
was praying, he contradicted, saying — Grant not that. But
at last became mute after a few sentences. The poor woman
came to her senses and was much concerned when they told
her she had spoken rudely to me, not being aware that
it was more the speech of the enemy of souls than hers.
Another poor woman was much in the same case, and during
the possession brought forth a child without any sense of
A school master in the parish came to me about the same
time with a written account of his conversion, as he supposed;
and indeed it looked so like the thing, and being of a regular
walk and seemingly tender conscience, that I took it for granted,
till such time as he called for me at a countrey house where
I was catechising the people, among whom he stood some time,
and then retired and lay down upon a bed, where I found him;
and asking how matters stood, he spoke of a great weight of
heavenly joy. I said he was one of the happiest people on earth,
if that was true, for it was a rare attainment, and that only
of some of the most eminent saints. Then he said the Spirit
made a second attempt to enter in at his mouth, which if he
had done [he] could not have borne it. Here I perceived a
delusion and that Satan had all the while been deceiving the
poor man, by transforming himself into an angel of light. I
asked him how he could imagine that the Spirit of God behoved
to make His way in at our mouths, and warned him to guard
against such delusions. Some days after he came to my room
in a great fright; with his Bible under his arm, and told me he
could get no rest in the night season, and heard one walking
on the roof of the house above his head; that he heard the
report of a gun fired at his ear and saw a black swine behind
that attempted to take hold of his heels. Whereupon I
advised him to watch and pray, for that Satan was seeking
advantage against him; — that the Bible was not a charm to
keep him away, but of itself only a dead letter; 'tis not
Christ in the Word, but in the heart, that destroys his works.
The evil spirit at last got possession, and that to such a
degree that he was like to do mischief to his poor wife and
children, which obliged the people to take and bind him, yet
would he then reprove, swearing; and when it pleased God to
remove the Evil Spirit, he came again to his senses, and was
sensible how grossly he had been abused. I told him pride
and self-conceit lay at the bottom; that Providence had let
loose the Enemy to humble him, and would be a great mercy
if it had this good effect upon him. Yet notwithstanding
of several repeated checks of this nature, Satan seemed
still to keep possession, and he goes on in his self righteous
After my settlement, being informed of a piece land that
had been mortified for behoof of four poorest widows in the
parish, and that one James Forbes, a shipmaster, had seized
the said fund for his own behoof, I gave in a complaint to the
Sheriff, Sir Andrew Mitchell,1 in a court held at Ness Kirk,
1 Sir Andrew Mitchell of Westshore, second Baronet. The title became
extinct on the death of his brother, Sir John, about 1786.
where Forbes foresaid compeiring pretended he was nearest
heir to Mr. James Forbes,1 minister, whose relict (who left
that deed of mortification) was only a liferentrix and had no
power to do so. To this I replied that the deed was legally
done, and never quarrelled before, which supposed she was invested
with full powers, and that the nomination of the widows,
and payment of the fund had been in the Session's possession
time immemorial. Notwithstanding of this, the Court members
joined with him and looked on it as a gained cause. Nay,
and some of the elders connected with his friends sided with
him, but soon repented of this, as he took both lands and moss
over their heads, and put the poors' money in his own pocket.
But noways daunted or discouraged with these puffs and
blasts, I was determined to prosecute the affair to the utmost,
rather than suffer the poor widows to be deprived of what
they had such a good title to; and therefore laid the matter
as it stood before the Procurator of the Church, who wrote
me in return that I was in the right. The Knight, seeing
this letter, said — Advocates would be of different minds;
whereupon I called for the Messenger, and desired him to
prosecute the affair before the Sheriff Court, till it came to an
Interloquitur, and then I would write for an advocation, and
bring it before the Lords of Session, who I hoped would do
justice. Forbes, being informed of my design, and suspecting
it would go against him came in all haste willing to agree
upon any terms I pleased, which, for peace sake I granted,
upon the old footing of uplifting the yearly rent of 7 pounds
Scots' money from the tenant and paying in the same at
Candlemass to be distributed by the Session. Otherwise, he
should have no further concern with it; and though he has
oft failed yet can't get it out of his hands for want of
right magistrates. Nay, though I prosecuted the Factor on
Quendal's sequestrated estate for an arrear of stipend, before
the then Chief Magistrate, yet he made many wretched
shifts to put it off from time to time to create trouble and
charges; and when he found I would have it another way
1 Rev. James Forbes, AM., minister of Dunrossness 1662-1682. See
in spight of him pretended then to find I was in the right,
and offered to pass decreet in my favours for principal and
interest etc.
About the year 1756 I found a strong spirit of envy and
malice running against me, the Devil stirring up his poor
blinded slaves to create trouble by an attack not only upon
my character but property. The Laird of Symbister and
Bigton,1 during my absence, caused serve an edict for riding of
marches, in consequence of which they perambulat the ground
covered with snow and held a court in a private manner. The
magistrate, namely Alexander Sinclair of Broth, 2 for a bellyfull
of drink, passed sentence in Symbister's favours, who forthwith
sent his tenants to labour up the ground in dispute,
though I protested against the judge as incompetent in matters
of property, and his sentence therefore to be null and void.
Moreover, I caused labour the ground, sowed it and cutt
down the corns in spight of him. And as the Creditors
on Quendal's sequestrated estate were equally concerned, I
insisted that they should either renounce their claim, or
join in the prosecution before the Lords of Session. But
Symbister dropping his claim I keep'd possession of the arable
'Tis remarkable that my dear wife died in Lerwick in
1758 when about to repair to the physicians at Edinburgh
to cure a swelling after the birth of the second child. The
swelling rose gradually front her leggs, notwithstanding all the
means that could be got, till it came to her vital parts, and then
cutt her off. Mr. Gilbert the minister of Bressay,3 who married
a little before me, went south with his wife to gather up some
1 John Bruce Stewart of Symbister. Married Clementina Stewart, heiress
of Bigton in Dunrossness, and assumed her family name.
2 Alexander Sinclair of Brow, last parochial Magistrate or 'Bailie' of Dunrossness.

3 Rev. Francis Gilbert, ordained minister of Bressay, Burray, and Quarff,
1752. Died on the passage from Leith to Shetland, 2d May 1758, aged thirty--
Legacies left by her father and aunt, which lifted them up to
their ruin, for he died upon his passage home, and she soon
followed him; so that in about four years after the Captain
died also, and none remained alive who came in the Cabin in
1754 save myself. Vanity of vanities etc. I was under great
apprehension concerning my wife during the birth of her first
child, which made me earnestly supplicate a throne of grace in her
behalf. It pleased God to relieve her soon, and she recovered
so well as to nurse the child Nell, who met with several
remarkable deliverances, during her infancy; for being one day
in the garret, she tumbled down the stair without hurt. At
another time awaking from sleep and none in the room, she
got up and tumbled headlong over the bedside upon a stone
floor, yet without harm. A third time, sitting hard by the tea
Kettle then boiling on a choffer, the Kettle turned suddenly
over, and scattered the water around her, which caused the
mother to give a shriek, and immediately I pulled her up and
thereby providentially saved her from hurt. Upon her mother's
departure for Lerwick, the Lady Quendal took her along and
though she went up and down a large dark turnpike stair daily,
yet it pleased God her foot slipped not, which otherwise might
have endangered her life. When my wife took pains before the
birth of the second child, as I couldn't bear to hear her cries,
I went to Quendal and put up the Lady for her assistance,
which yet I repented of and should rather have staid at home,
and held up her case to a good and gracious God, who had
formerly delivered her by means of a poor old woman who was
the best that could be got at that time. But the ignorant
Creature having taken a table Knife, and made crosses over
the bed after the childbirth, according to her superstitious
custom — the remains of Black Popery, my wife bid her begone
with her devilry, and couldn't bear to hear of her afterwards.
She got the best midwife in the country, but didn't
succeed so well, trusting possibly too much in the instrument.

It grieved me much to find so little stir among the dry bones,
the generality here and elsewhere being so immersed in the
body and world that the most rousing sermons and awful alarming
providences make no impression on their blind heads and
obstinate hearts, though a pestilential fever that began in 1758
raged for several years, which, together with the Smallpox
1761, carried off upwards of 200 young and old; yet alas made
but little impression. In February and March said year by a
long tract of snow and severe weather numbers also were cut off,
horses sheep and cattle. Great scarcity of victual ensued, while
the sea yielded no fish; and by reason of a great drought, the
cows yielded little milk, whereby the inhabitants were generally
brought to great straits, as a just judgment for abuse of
plentiful seasons by gluttony and drunkenness, which oft broke
out in scandalous uncleanness of all sorts. Nor was any suitable
improvement made of such awful dispensations in any serious
and hearty concern for salvation and preparation for the Day
of Judgment and Eternity — every one looking about them
how breaches might be made up in the loss of husband, wife
or child etc.
In May said year 1761, two Dutch vessels stranded at Sandwick,
mistaking it for Bressay Sound. A number of persons
went on board one of these vessels and in a violent and forcible
manner carried off to the value of £50 Ster. worth of goods;
which the Admiral1 at first threatened to punish them for.
But taking £60 Ster., for two Admiral Courts relative to the
wreck, took no more notice of the plunderers. Affliction was
added hereby to the afflicted. But as the Sacrament of the
Lord's Supper was to be celebrated at that Kirk soon after,
and this affair had given just scandal; in order therefore to
separate 'twist the clean and unclean, I put two boats' crews
upon oath, who had been employed in the salvage of the goods,
and found clearly proved that about 40 men had been concerned
in the forsaid plunder. The Session appointed them to stand
before the Congregation in different parcels, and be rebuked for
the scandal; which they all did, except 8 or 9, who stood out
till they were summoned before the Presbytery, who so far
took part with these rogues (who were the most criminal, and
1 The Admiral, i.e. the officer acting as Vice-Admiral of Shetland in the
custody of wrecks, etc. Admiral Courts = Courts of Admiralty.
had made the first attack upon the Vessel, that they thought
proper to dismiss the affair altogether at first as being incompetent
judges, till I appealed from their sentence to the General
Assembly for redress; which made them deal with the delinquents
to submit to a Presbyterial rebuke, which they accordingly
did accept of, and, for peace sake, I dropped the appeal,
on condition that the Clerk should give me an extract of
this sentence to be read next Lord's Day, from the pulpit of
Sandwick, which was done accordingly to their further shame
and disgrace. O the wretched stupidity and sottishness of
sinful mortals! — 'Who hath believed our report such
time as the Spirit of God awakens the sleepy conscience, and
changes the curst nature of man, neither word or rod makes
any impression, yet though Israel be not gathered, God will be
glorious, and the reward of His faithful ministers will never
be the less; and bless'd be his glorious and worthy name, who
encourages me to depend go on and wait His good time for
the spiritual blessings promised in these latter days; and that
amidst all struggles with a body of sin and death He is
pleased sometimes to bless me with the light of His reconciled
countenance, etc.
In the year 1762, being chosen Commissioner to the General
Assembly, I landed at Peterhead, and payed a visit to my
friends in the north, where I preached ten Sabbaths running to
the universal satisfaction of the hearers; as also at Edinburgh
and Sacrament occasions at Newbottle etc. What success
attended these sermons I know not; but as I aimed at God's
honour and good of souls, by striking a blow at the root of sin,
by preaching up the spirit of Christianity and power of real
holiness; found to blessed experience that promise made good
that such as honour God He will honour etc. Though alas!
many will commend a sermon yet continue still in the gall of
bitterness etc.
I went to Dysart the beginning of September, thinking from
thence to take passage home. But the wind proving contrary,
and fearing the vessel would not get out when the wind proved
favourable, with her salt cargo, they sailed again for Leith
harbour, whereby very providentially I had access to converse
with and hear publickly the famous Mr. Whitfield1 four different
times, first on these words And they that were ready went in to
the marriage, and the doors were shut; second And we know
that we are passed from death to life; third The Scribes and
Pharisees murmured saying, This man receiveth sinners and
eateth with them; and 4th Genesis 1st and 2nd, And the Earth
was without form and Void — the drift of all tending to lead
sinners to Christ and promote pure and undefiled religion,
without regard to party notions, that so many lay stress upon
and show a mighty zeal for. He is a plain and affectionate
preacher, and discovers a singular talent in keeping up the
attention of the hearers and moving their passions. As I
had a strong desire to see, hear and converse with such a
worthy man, so have reason to bless God who ordered it to my
great comfort and satisfaction. Good people esteem, love and
speak well of him as they do of all God's faithful ministers;
but the profane herd of all sorts hate, ridicule, bely, and slander
him, and such like out of mere enmity and malice. Thus the
promise is fulfilled in all ages, I will put enmity betwixt thy
seed and her seed etc. Upon the fourth day of September, on
our return, the sailors gave out early in the morning that they
were off Mousa; and thus, when we were thinking of being
soon in our desired haven, I was suddenly roused by a sea which
broke through the cabin window, and poured upon my head,
which I took up as a warning to get up and consider our
danger. When I came upon deck, the mariners were calling
to one another to get the ship off shore and save our lives.
By the moonlight I supposed a little cloud to be a rock at first,
and so nigh that we were in danger of going ashore forthwith;
which made me dart up sudden ejaculations to the Lord to save
us, and thereupon called upon the rest of the Crew below to
come upon deck; but the hellish blasphemies of the cursed tars
damning one another put me in greater fear than the danger
1 Rev. George Whitfield, one of the principal founders of the Methodist
Church. Born at Gloucester in 1714. Died in America in 1770. The place
where he preached in Leith Walk was till lately known as 'Whitfield Place.'
It was on an earlier visit to Scotland, in 1741, that the great revival at Cambuslang
took place.
we were in; and had it been dark, as it was very providentially
moon and morning light, they had all perished in the
tideway of North Ronaldshay, and probably none of our lives
had been saved, and these had gone to hell with its language
in their mouths. The main-sail was entangled and couldn't
be got hoisted, till some got up the shrouds and set it to
rights again, which had occasioned so much stir among them.
Then I perceived to lie off the quarter-deck, a good way off,
the northmost isle of Orkney, lying low in the water. The
tideway made a foul sea, and might have broke a weaker
vessel; the wind shifting at same time we got clear of both
North Ronaldshay and Sanday, and got a safe harbour in the
isle of Stronsay before breakfast; and this deliverance was the
more remarkable that, though we had several shipmasters and
a double crew on board, they were so infatuate as to mistake
their reckoning, and ignorant of the place we were in till
clear daylight discovered it. Besides, the wind soon rose
so high that we might have missed both countries for some
time at least. After four days' stay among a kind and hospitable
people, we loosed again, and reached Lerwick in seventeen
hours time. O that men would praise the Lord for his kindness
and wonderful deliverances to the sons of men. Before
I left Edinburgh I was engaged in courtship with a Knight's
daughter, who had the character of a pious young lady;
but as our acquaintance was short, we agreed to delay the
marriage till next Spring, but before that time another minister
nigh Edinburgh made offers of the same nature, which were
accepted of purely on this account to be nigh her friends.
Two other young ladies equally agreeable were proposed by
my friends, then, but I chuse to be true to my engagements.
In January 1763, a large three masted vessel commanded
by one Captain Ferguson from Burrowstoness, and bound for
America, was by a storm driven into Sandwick bay in the night
time and stranded below the Kirk, and had she gone to either
side, had run a great risk of losing their lives, whereas all were
saved and provisions too. One Swan in P'thead [i.e. Peterhead]
was mate. Said year having bespoke a Saw Stock from Quendal
for putting up a little stable for my riding horse etc., while
masons were putting up the walls, one came and told me the
Saw Stock was rotten and couldn't serve my purpose, which
obliged me to take horse and try if anything could be got for
roof, doors etc. at Quendal or Symburgh. In my way one came
running about another business, and telling him occasionally
of my design [he] answered, he could supply me with all
ready made, which was the more remarkable that I knew not
where timber was to be had at that tune. Thus should we eye
God in all providential dispensations respecting ourselves or
others — the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,
while those that regard not the operation of his hand are
justly reputed a blind and stupid generation.
In the year 1764 one of the King's yachts front Leith was
wrecked, through mistake of the pilot, upon Fitwil [i.e. Fitfell]
head. Reid, the Captain, and crew etc. met with a miraculous
preservation, being put upon a sand beach having a ridge of
rocks on either side — the entry being narrow, and in the night
time in darkness.
Said year, the man and his family who laboured one half of
my glebe growing still more rude and insolent that I couldn't
get a servant keeped in the house, [I] was determined to put
him off, and had warned him, though I knew not where to
find another to supply his place. Meantime Providence so
ordered that one came enquiring if I would accept of one to
labour my land, and we soon agreed to terms etc. etc. In the
year 1765 I went Commissioner to the General Assembly with
a view at same time to obtain redress of grievances by encroachment
made on the priviledges of my glebe by some Lairds; and
to have the affair brought before the Lords, and plead on the
Church funds, and also for getting schools in the Parish upon
a Legal footing; but was remitted to the ordinary Courts to
commence the process, which was setting me to the Long
Sands; yet the Committee appointed for such matters discovered
their partiality in granting sums for carrying on
processes to augment stipends, but would grant none to defend
the Church's property.1
1 See INTRODUCTION: Extracts from Minutes of Presbytery re Glebe Lands.
Being afraid my Children would be spoiled thro' want of
proper discipline, and as I couldn't take them home without a
helpmeet to have them under my own eye and inspection,
Providence furnished one suitable to my taste. July 29, 1765
I was married for the second time to Miss Ann Young,
daughter to Mr. Robert Young, portioner at the Water of
Leith, by Mr. John Erskine minister of New Greyfriars, Edinburgh.
'Tis remarkable that she was proposed to me in 1754,
before I was first married; and with this view, one unknown to
me desired her mother to admitt a visit, but she said she would
rather bury her daughter at home than let her go at such distance;
therefore keeped her in close dependence that she might
stay with her till death; but now when it came to the push in
good earnest by my own addresses Providence overruled her by
the unanimous concurrence of some friends she most confided
in. It was further noticeable that she and another agreeable
young lady were proposed three years before, and [I] was
urged by my friends at Edinburgh to make my addresses to
her, which I would not do then, being engaged with another.
But Providence made a better choice for me in reserving her
to this time, giving a stronger proof of her affection which was
founded on better grounds than the former, — of no less worldly
advantages as to friends and means, and, what I valued most,
a person of substantial piety. We set out from Leith August
10th, put into Stonehive [Stonehaven] the 13th, where we
lodged agreeably in one Doctor Lawson's. Before we got into
harbour a boy was thrown overboard by the sail, but getting
hold of a rope was saved; but next Sabbath morning I reproved
him for singing a common Song. He forgot that it was the
Sabbath day. We took a view of Dunnoter Castle, in ruins,
that about a century ago had been a prison to good Christians,
persecuted by the Malignants of those days, who ruled the
roost. Our Landlady said she would have shown us the
Whigg's Vault had she been with us, but we found it without
her direction. In this little town were two Episcopal clergymen,
the one jurant the other non-jurant. The curse of God
sooner or later falls on all persons and places, enemies to the
Gospel and true Christians who are the excellent ones of the
Earth and substance of the land. We loosed from Stonehive
the 17th do. dropped anchor at night in Peterhead Bay, and
on the 20th current landed in Bressay Sound, when through
thick fogg we were just to the west of Bressay and as the wind
was against, were in danger of being driven to Norway, had not
kind Providence changed the wind, and dispelled the fogg.
Soli Deo Gloria.
In 1766, no sooner had we settled at home than one of my
principal Heritors wrote me a letter signifying that I behoved
to complete the Kirk of Sandwick, otherwise they would make
me liable for damages; in answer to which I told him that
though the Horning for the Kirk and Manse run in my name,
yet as young Quendal, as heritor,1 had undertaken the work,
and the money had been paid in to him, the law might take its
course: whereupon they applied to the Presbytery for a Visitation
of both: and being informed of their threatenings and
combinations to do me mischief, I applied at same time for a
Visitation, being determined to have recourse upon them for
reparation of the Manse, Garden Dyke, office houses, done at
my own charge, Communion Cups, and everything I wanted,
which the law entitled me to. When they found this, matters
were compromised — they agreed to pay in the remainder of their
sums, the undertaker to complete the work, and I was to prosecute
outstanders upon the Horning; and finding the few
members of Presbytery they were closely connected with were
so partial as to do their business, but pretended they had no time
for mine, I dropped the prosecution, chusing, for peace sake,
to lose all my expences which I had expected out of the vacant
stipends, and which indeed the Earl of Morton had promised
to grant, both by word and write, upon the sale of Quendal
estate; but then put me off with this, that Quendal had paid
no vacant stipends, and that I behoved to have recourse upon
my Heritors. Thus I found the Psalmist's words true that
Great Men are a lie. However I regretted this the less as the
1 The estate of Sandwick at this time belonged to Sinclair of Quendale
(Sandwick 309 merks, formerly in the family of Sinclair of Sandwick, with the
island of Mousa in addition; Aith, Cunningsburgh, 368 merks, formerly
Sinclair's of Aith).
burning of the manse and furniture etc. had, in the course of
Providence, turned more to my spiritual advantage than it was
all worth. Nay, and blessed be His worthy name, who has
made me up more than all the worldly loss in temporals
likewise. One thing I must remark particularly, that God
over-ruled the Lairds' designs beyond their intention to
issue in a thorough repair of the Kirk of Sandwick, which
otherwise, through Quendal's indolence etc. had gone to
wreck etc.
In 1767 I preached at Lerwick on Rev. 16 & 15, after the
death of their minister Mr. Millar, which they seemed very
well pleased with, though formerly they had been much displeased
when preaching on Psalm 24 & 4, the application
making their consciences reel and fall on them. But I was not
much moved by their frowns or smiles, it being my highest
ambition to please God.
As this parish lies in a corner by itself at a distance from
others, I find most of ministers loath to give themselves the
trouble of coming this length to supply in absence, or assist at
Sacraments, especially as the most convenient season for dispensing
this ordinance of the Supper is after the time of far--
fishing is over in August. The nearest ministers being engaged
soon for the Sacrament at Walls, and finding I could scarce
make out wine or assistants, and having also the ordination
sermon on hand for a successor to Mr. Millar at Lerwick,
obliged me to drop it out for a season, which the Parish
seemed to take amiss, as most look upon it as a charm, confers
some good thing, and puts away old scores of their sins. Nay,
such as seem to make least conscience of duty and walking
according to the laws of God are most eager to partake of this
ordinance. This is a fearful delusion which they are oft
warned of, yet there's nothing but Omnipotence can drive it
out of their heads etc.
In 1768 being elected a member for the General Assembly,
my wife accompanied me to see her aged mother, and other
relations, as also Nell, my eldest daughter, whom we settled
with the Miss Scots, a minister's daughters of good reputation,
to teach her to make her own cloathes, at least, and see more of
the world, as she had got already what this Country afforded
as to sewing and working of stockings, writing, arithmetick,
dancing,1 Church music, &c. We staid only three weeks at
Edinburgh, and returned again by the packet, being about six
days on our passage going south, and as much in our return;
but met with a violent gale of easterly wind which put us nigh
the coast of Caithness, when the storm increasing, upon the
14th day of June, Tuesday, the shipmaster laid about for
Peterhead, and coming nigh it about six in the afternoon, it
proved so thick and dark that we couldn't see the town, and
therefore were obliged to stand to sea all night, and if Providence
hadn't ordered it so that the wind shifted a point into the
north, our lives had been in great danger by the ship's going
ashore. But it pleased a good and gracious God that the
storm abated about two of the clock in the morning, and we
got to breakfast next day in Peterhead, loosed on Thursday
and reached Bressay Sound on Sabbath morning the 19th.
Soli Deo Gloria.
After my return I found John Bruce of Symburgh had
marked out a pund2 on my priviledge, for setting two tenants
upon, and accordingly builded two houses for them.
In 1769 I went for Fair Isle in the beginning of June, and
having examined the whole youth of the isle, and also young
communicants, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was celebrated
on June the 11th and Providence favored with a proper
opportunity of returning once and again, upon the morrow
after the Thanksgiving Day, Thanks to God for all his mercies,
especially for His unspeakable gift, for of Him and through
Him and to Him are all things: to whom be glory for ever and
ever, Amen. There seemed to be some good christians there.
One woman, in particular, told me something of her experi1
His daughter's being instructed in dancing is discordant with his previous
expression of views on the subject.
2 Pund: the term in Shetland for an enclosure usually taken in, by a dyke,
from the hill, or from commonty ground ('Skattald').
ences, and a considerable number of them accompanied me
to the boat, at my departure, with singular expressions of
O MOST blessed and glorious God, Thou alone art worthy
to be feared, adored, and admired by all thy reasonable
creatures as the First Cause, the greatest and best of Beings,
as the Author of my being and of all those mercies I enjoy in
common with others, but especially for thy matchless love in offering
Jesus Christ, thine Only Begotten Son, and all the benefits
purchased by His blood, for poor wretched sinners of mankind
who shall accept of him as the free gift of God, and the Pearl
of great price, who alone can bless and make them happy in
time and through eternity. I desire to bless and magnify thy
Great and Glorious Name for thy distinguishing mercy and
love in separating me from my mother's womb and calling me
effectually by thy grace out of that woful and wretched estate
of sin and misery wherein I was plunged, and lay with others
quite insensible and secure till Thou wast pleased to open the
eyes of my understanding to see my sin and danger, translating
me from darkness to light, and from the power and slavery of
sin and Satan into the glorious liberty of thy dear children,
shedding abroad thy love into my heart, and thereby giving
that sollid and substantial peace and joy that infinitely surpasses
all the carnal joys and pleasures of the most prosperous
worldlings; yet must acknowledge to thy glory, most gracious
and merciful God, and also to my own shame, that though I
was thus called, and that early, about 15 or 16 years old, from
a state of vile nature, enmity and rebellion into a state of
Grace, favour and friendship with Thyself, yet I wretchedly
and foolishly run out and run away from thee, and that not
only when I knew thee not, but even after Thou wast pleased
to reveal Thy Son in me; and would have run away endlessly
and eternally from Thee through the force of temptations and
strength of indwelling corruptions, if thy grace and mercy had
not prevented by hedging in my way as with thorns, sanctifyword
and rod for reclaiming me from the error of my ways.
And though thou wast pleased to take to thyself my pious
father during my infancy, yet stirred up friends to take care of
my education, and in thy good time to put me into the ministry
to preach the everlasting Gospel of thy dear Son, and setting
me over two large congregations, among whom I have been
employed for the space of twenty-seven years nigh, but alas!
with little success, and have just cause to make the prophet's
complaint: Who hath believed our report? etc. And though
I have cause to fear that 'tis owing to manifold breaches of
Covenant engagements, and defects in a faithful and diligent
exercise of the duties of my office, yet can appeal to the
Searcher of all hearts, who knoweth all things, that I love Him
above all, and that 'tis the sincere desire of in heart to be
found faithful to Christ, to my own soul and those committed
to my care. Thou Lord knowest also that the dishonour done
to thy worthy name, not only by my own failings and shortcomings
in duty and elsewhere, but the scandalous outbreakings
of all kinds of sins among all ranks of persons, through the
parish and whole country, grieves me to the heart, and makes
rivers of tears flow from mine eyes; and at the same time, that
there is nothing my soul so earnestly pants and longs for as to
behold Thy power and glory displayed in Thy Sanctuary, by
the saving operations of Thy Holy Spirit, in His awakning,
convincing, and converting influences on perishing souls, and
that 'tis my highest ambition to have the approbation of
Heaven by a faithful and conscientious discharge of all the
duties I owe to my God and my father's God, to my flock and
family, to my neighbours and self; and for this end I desire to
bind myself afresh, by dedicating and devoting both soul and
body, and all I am and have, to the glory of Thy great Name,
resolving, in the strength of Divine grace, to cleave close to
the Lord Jesus Christ in every state and condition thou seest
best for me, whether of prosperity or adversity, and to walk
before Thee in holiness of heart and practice all the days of
mine appointed time on Earth, cost what it will; and in testimony
hereof, have subscribed these presents at Manse of
Dunrossness this 3rd day of February 1770 years.
1 Up to this point the writing of the Diary seems to have been mostly a
retrospect over past years. It now seems to assume the character of periodical
jottings at more or less frequent intervals.
Three of my nearest neighbours among the clergy, moved
with envy, malignity, and wrath against me for reproving some
things that were scandalous in their conduct etc. being met in
Presbytery, they shewed their teeth and enmity by appointing
me to supply in a vacant parish about 23 miles distance, in the
month of January, when it was with difficulty that I could supply
my own people, tho' one of these members was within three
or four miles of said parish Kirk, and the other two ministers
about as much more from Sandsting; but I wouldn't go till
they all went first. Symburgh enclosed two punds more upon
the priviledges of my glebe land, and set two more tenants
upon the same, without asking my advice, hereby wasting the
Scatteld1 and cutting off my moss and pasturage, though
he had only a just title to little more than two thirds of the
same; and in the former pund set out to two tenants, in 1768,
he had a title only to one half of the same; but as it might cost
me more than its worth in the prosecution, upon advice from
Edinburgh I dropped the same, as the Church would grant me
no assistance.
Though there is little stir among the dry bones, yet, blessed
be His worthy name, I discovered two young people whom the
Spirit of the Lord seemed to have wrought upon; they were
lately joined in marriage together, had been both last occasion
partakers of the Lord's Supper. Some months after, the
woman died after childbirth, and her husband came in great
concern, acquainting me with the circumstances of her death;
how she minded secret duty, wept bitterly, was afraid of unworthy
communicating, and had sore struggles with Satanical
suggestions before her exit; and he seems to be an exercised
Christian himself.
1 SCATTELD, more usually and more correctly SKAT-HALD (which is pure
Norse, a holding, or possession, for which skat, tax or rent, is paid) — the common
pasturage to which district has right. The district possessing a Skathald is
itself sometimes conveniently denominated a Skathald, as 'the Skathald of
—.' The term probably originated from unenclosed and unappropriated land
(Almenning) being regarded as public property vested in the State as representing
the community, and therefore subject to tax, or rent, from those using it
Occupied land in Shetland, the direct property of its owners, recognised no
Superior, in the feudal sense, the paid no Superior duty.
Some years ago, a countrey man in the northmost part of
this ministry couldn't rest in the night-time and was at last
prompted by the Enemy of Souls to drown himself. Soon after,
another, decayed in worldly circumstances, was tempted to do
the same about the middle of the ministry; and a third man
in the south part, turned dumpish, and acted the same fearful
tragedy this year. A boat was cast away by the sudden rise of a
surge, which rushed upon the sail, and overset her, in sight of
other boats, who saved one man, and other two perished, father
and son; and, what was most remarkable, the father used not
to go to sea, but was employed that day, instead of another
son who used to go with the boat. This wretched old man
was observed to be often grumbling and crying out against
bad weather, and here he perished in good weather.
Of five cows, when three of them were to be cut off for
the badness of their teeth, and I knew not how to have their
room supplied, as they were turned both scarce and dear, and
a greedy fellow was seeking a high price for one, an honest
well-wisher came and offered me a better and cheaper cow;
another did the same, and a third I exchanged for one of the old
cows to be a mart, and all these three were but seven years old,
and among the best like cows in the parish. Deus providebit.
There seems to be a common work of the Spirit of God on
many, convincing them of the necessity of a supernatural
work of Grace in order to their eternal salvation, that engage
to diligent attendance on ordinances, which I have discovered
in severals on sick beds, yet seem to rest there mostly; but
a woman I saw lately in these circumstances, upon hinting
the absolute necessity of being renewed and sanctified, cried
out — 'Lord, take me not off this earth till I know it to
experience' etc. [a leaf lost here]
… as to refuse the principal gentry in the countrey access
to him; but when it suited with his worldly interest, and to
acquire it, he stuck at nothing, however mean and sordid
when his haughty treatment of the Lairds had so far exasperated
them as to [induce them to] enter into a combination
against him, and lodge a formal complaint to the Commissioners
of Customs, it was found by deposition of witnesses that he
had been acting diametrically opposite to the very design of his
office in smuggling and offering to act in concert with others
for carrying on a clandestine trade to cheat the government,
for which he was deservedly broke in 1768, and is now reduced
to Bankruptcy, wherein the Scripture is fulfilled, that 'Pride
goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.'
He died soon after, and left nothing to his poor family but
hatred and contempt.1
In 1772, the months of January and February were very
cold, by a continued frost and snow, whereby many out-liers2
(as called), sheep and horses, were cut off. The meal and malt
rose high, and what was brought to the country sold for
4s. 6d. per lispband.3 I smote you with blasting and milldew
etc. yet have ye not returned to me, saith the Lord. My
mother died in November this year, aged 84.
In March Lady Symburgh4 was so bad after childbirth
that she was thought to be a-dying, and when my wife and
daughter went to see her, Symburgh sent a servant to let her
know when nigh the house that her visit would not be acceptable.
This piece of kindness was the more astonishing, as she
keep'd naughty creatures about her, whose company seemed
more agreeable to their vitiate taste. However Providence so
ordered she grew worse. Upon this, which made them send an
express desiring to pray publicly on Sabbath for her soul;
and said night another express came for some rice to be
applied to the body. Being afterwards sent for to see her,
I sat by the bedside, and spoke a deal to her, which she took
in good part, and after prayer, she was desirous of another
visit, and wonderfully recovered.
1 The loss of a leaf here has caused an interesting narrative to perish. What
is left seems to indicate that the ruin of the ancient family of Sinclair of Quendale
is referred to.
2 OUTLIERS: animals not stabled, or kept under cover, but finding food and
shelter for themselves.
3 LISPBAND, or LISPUND, a native weight in Orkney and Shetland, originally
12 lbs., but raised gradually, as a means of extortion, to 18 lbs. Scots measure.
4 It was common to style wives of leading heritors 'Lady,' in this way.
May 1st. — After musing on several texts of Scripture
which I judged might be instrumental of gaining sinners to
Christ, on going to the window I perceived a bright and
livly image of the sun in the garden mould before the window,
the like whereof I had never seen in my life. Retiring from
the window for a little, it resembled a burning coal, and
approaching nearer to the glass, it appeared with as bright
lustre as the sun and cast forth splendid rays around in like
manner; which made me trust and hope that the Lord would
please yet, through my poor endeavours, make the Sun of
Righteousness arise with healing tinder his wings on some dark
minds, and shine on some earthen hearts etc. This may be
ascribed to a natural cause, or to fancy and enthusiasm; but
if we may not believe our senses when mistakes are guarded
against which might mislead them, we should believe nothing
if it flowed from a natural cause. This would probably fall
out more than once, which it never did before or since.
Having some time ago formed a scheme of leaving something
that might prove beneficial to the souls of men after
my decease, I took some pains to write my sentiments on the
principles of religion and Christian liberty, as to faith and
practice founded both on Sound Reason as well as on the Scriptures
of truth, confining the same to as narrow limits as possible,
to make it easy [of] purchase, and for promoting a Catholick
spirit of true Christianity, which is confined to no party.
Having thus completed my design in two or three years, I
carried the manuscript to Edinburgh last year, and put it into
a judicious minister's hand for perusal; and after exchanging
some letters on the subject, he committed it to a printer,
a sensible good sort of man, who undertook to put it in a
proper dress, and accordingly printed a thousand copies thereof
for £50 ster. Jan. 1773, which I reckon the best bestowed
money that ever I laid out, if through God's blessing (to
whose good Providence I do heartily commit it) the little
book shall prove a mean of gaining but one soul to Christ
Jesus, Amen.1
1 His published work, The Holy Catholic Church. Edin. 1773. See INTRODUCTION.

In the beginning of this year the vessel by which I commissioned
for house necessaries was suspected to be lost, as she
had gone from this country about the middle of September
last, and some ships arriving from Hamburgh1 brought accounts
that she was not come there long after; but she cast up towards
the latter end of January. After suffering much damage by a
storm, they got in to Norway, and from thence to Hamburgh.
'O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness' etc. O
for a grateful heart for kind Providences. I never lost any
commissions to this day.
A young horse was missing for some months, and though the
officer called him at the Kirk,2 no accounts could be got of
him, till a man in this village3 who had gone in quest of one
that had strayed from him, and in seeking his own horse he
providentially lighted on mine, and brought him home without
his own horse — the greater the mercy that horses can hardly
be got for money, being scarce and dear.
Against the middle of April, the straw was quite exhausted
by the missmanagement, or rather knavery, of a servant; and
being exceedingly scarce that it couldn't be got for money,
was apprehensive least my cattle should perish for want. Yet
by the good Providence of God, it was, and oft, sent by the
people gratis to the door, and when in most need; and at
last got as much hay to purchase as served, and some lispunds
of oats also, which I could not procure before at any rate.
Glory to the rich Provider of all etc.
In June the ground in many places looked black, which
made severals sow the ground a second time, supposing time
seed to have been destroyed by the story (?) worm, which
seemed indeed to have been nipped, but not quite destroyed,
for a sudden heat and drought having destroyed the creature,
1 Supplies received in Shetland from HAMBURG. This well-known custom
in last century seems strange, but is easily accounted for. Then, for centuries
before, and as is still the case, the larger portion of Shetland cured fish was
exported to Continental markets, chiefly through Hamburg. Intercourse directly
with ports in Scotland was intermittent and uncertain.
2 Called at the Kirk: the then best available method of public advertisement.
3 This village: Skelberry, where the Manse and Glebe are.
the seed sprung where none was sown afterwards a second
time and produced a crop, though late.
In August, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was
celebrated at the Ness Kirk; but O! there's a great restraint
of the Spirit.
About the beginning of October a large vessel from Boston
in New England and bound for Burntisland, having one Smith
for master, and Parker the owner, with his lady and four
children on board, was driven by stress of weather, about ten
of the clock in the night time, upon the west part of Fair
Isle, 'twixt two rocks,1 by which merciful and wonderful
interposition of Providence they were all saved, being about
twenty souls, with their provisions and some of the cargo.
Next day the ship went to wreck etc.
On the 24th of said month, an English vessel of 400 tuns
from Norway, load with saw stocks, was driven by a storm
of westerly wind on the rocks of Havra,2 when the whole
crew perished in the nighttime. About the same time also, a
vessel from Leith, with 260 emigrants for North Carolina, was
by stress of weather put into Vela Sound in Walls. The
smallpox at same time carried off severals, and some of their
children crammed in the hold were said to be stifled to death
and thrown overboard into the sea, before they landed; after
which the vessel was driven from her anchors, and so damaged
that they could not, for several mouths, put to sea again. The
people were dispersed through the several parishes for subsistence
according to the Sheriff's decreet. They went back for
Leith in April, and the project for America thereby miscarried.
In May 1774 [paragraph of 12 lines deleted].
In the beginning of June I went for Fair Isle, and celebrated
the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper there alone, where is a
1 The wreck of the Lessing from Bremen to New York in 1869, and the
saving of the crew and emigrants on board, was in precisely similar circumstances,
— between two rocks, at the Sheldie Cave — a miraculous preservation.
2 Havera (Hafrey, isle of oats?), a small island on the west side of Sandwick,
the middle parish of Mill's ministry.
remnant of 'real Christians,' and in general so warm hearted
to their minister that they came in a crowd to the boat at
my departure to shake hands and bid me a solemn farewell,
besides some presents they made of fish, barley etc.
On the 21st of said month a strong gale of wind arose
that carried of a small sloop from this parish that for many
days was amissing; but at last she cast up again; and said
day three boats with sixteen men were lost at the North
Maving1 fishing, whereby 'tis said that sixty children were left
fatherless; yet these awful Providences are little considered
and improven, or the operation of his hands regarded.
Some time before a considerable quantity of Hollands
gin, etc., was found lodged in the Church of Nesting and
carried off by the Custom House yatch [i.e. yacht], and the
vessel, belonging to Lerwick merchants, that brought the
liquor run the risk of being condemned and burnt; and though
they smarted formerly in a severe manner for this clandestine
trade, yet so strong is the greed of gain, notwithstanding it
drains the money and debauches the countrey, they know no
measure in bringing home more tho' the yatch soon returned
and took much more from severals in Lerwick. Some was
retaken from the Custom House.
In the month of October an Hamburger loaden with ry
from Archangel was much damaged (by stricking on the rock
called the Unicorn from the name of that ship wherein the
Laird of Grange struck in pursuit of Earl Bothwel2); but
getting into a creek in Nesting parish, the ry proved of great
service to poor people, who had full liberty to take thereof,
which, after being steeped in fresh water, they dried etc. for
use. About the same time an English vessel from Archangel
loaden with oil and in was wrecked at Noss in Bressay and
little saved but the men's lives. Two Danish vessels got in
with difficulty, and a vessel from Holland loaden with wheat
from Archangel had lost her rudder in the storm, and was
1 North Maving: parish of North Mavine (Nord Maveid).
2 The UNICORN ROCK, not far from the north entrance to Bressay Sound
(Lerwick). The incident is authentic, as fully attested at the time. The
Unicorn had on board Kirkcaldy of Grange and Bishop Adam Bothwell
dragged into Lerwick Bay by boats. O that men would praise
the Lord for signal preservations etc. The master's name was
Van Ross of Scotch parents in Zurick [Zuyder?] See.
In January 1775 a large ship from Copenhagen of 20 guns
(Nicolas Moram, master) stranded by a storm at Sandwick,
nigh the Kirk, having sugar and tea, silks and calicoes etc.
supposed to be worth in all £20,000 Libs. Ster. The ship
wrecked and cargo mostly damaged. This is the fifth ship lost
there within ten years' space. She was bound for Santa Crux
in America.
March 11th. In return from the Presbytery at Lerwick to
the north parish, we were in great danger from a strong blow
of wind that was like to oversett the boat, and a heaving sea
that keeped a man often throwing out the water, yet would
they not lower the sail. But praise to a good and gracious
God who brought us safe to land.
In said month I met with a very agreeable surprise from
my eldest daughter Nell's putting into my hand a written
account of her conversion, which seemed to be genuine and
true; and it was the more remarkable that not long before
she was much given to dress, diversions, and encouragment
of young frothy men to make suit to her, which she seems
now to be grieved for, and to look down [upon] with a holy
contempt and disdain.
I was no less surprised with an account my sister wrote
me in April of three Greenland Captains1 who frequented
her house, and savoured much of real piety, and bought each
of them a copy of the 'Holy Catholic Church';2 and her remark
on it was just and true, that God has his remnant sometimes
among the worst of people, as these rought tarrs seem to be.
In June I was no less surprised to find that the servant
maid, aged 23 years, was under a real work of the Spirit of
God, by getting a distinct view of all her sins, and says it
1 Greenland Captains: commanders of whale-fishing vessels, calling at
Lerwick to complete the complement of their crews.
2 The Holy Catholic Church: Mill's own printed volume.
began with observing the great change she saw upon my eldest
daughter to the better; and though she met with opposition
from some of her nearest carnal friends, who imputed it to
melancholy etc., yet she seems resolute to hold on in the way
of holiness.
'Tis remarkable that when I had no prospect of any
slaughter beasts a kind Providence furnished soon three of
these, two whereof — an ox and cow — I put to the grassing.
A dangerous rebellion broke out in America by our
Colonists etc.
August 12th. About ten of the clock at night, while sitting
before the fire, a spark of lightning came down through
the chimney, which surprised me a little, after which frequent
flashes shone on the windows and loud peals of thunder
followed, but no harm ensued. Some days before this, the
Collector of the Customs being in this parish made a seizure
of gin, which being transported to Lerwick and lodged in a
house, the Greenlanders then in the harbour, instigated
by the owners, broke open the door, and carrying it away,
the Collector, attended with other Custom House officers,
came upon them, and stabbed one of them in the thigh,
which obliged them to drop their prey; so hot are people
upon their lusts and idols that they fly in the face of
Government itself and stick at nothing for gain.
August 27th, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was
celebrated at Sandwick, which I was obliged to set about
alone, being disappointed of two of the nearest clergymen
who dreamed that I could not do without them, and thereupon
turned very saucy, under a groundless pretence that I
showed not such respect to their wives as they deserved. But
like draws to like. They supposed they would get their bellies
stuffed nearer home, and go on with an empty form while
the blind lead the blind, and is the main drift. But blessed
be his worthy name who carried me as well through without
them as with them. My people thought themselves at no loss,
and had more peace in my own mind, as their conversation
was rather nauseous and stumbling than edifying on such
occasions; and though the weather was dark and skies lowering,
yet it pleased God so to bind up the clouds that we had
little or no rain all the time that gave the least disturbance
to the people going or coming, or during the sermons etc.
And the Providence of God was the more remarkable that
the roof of the Church was very open and crazy. Soli Deo
Gloria. A young probationer was present who gave me no
assistance, and told me I would kill myself with so much
work, having preached six times and served seven tables. I
replied that, in this event, I would die in a good cause.
September 5. Providence afforded as fine a day as heart
could wish for taking
[2, lines at bottom of page cut away.]
August 9th. My wife showed me a large bone forked at
both ends taken forcibly from a young quea's [quey's] mouth
by a woman nigh the hill, to whom the creature came of its
own accord as if on purpose to seek relief, and the same
woman had saved its life the winter before by helping it out
of a mire, when otherwise it would have perished. Doth God
take care for oxen and queas? Doubtless he does, as here.
October 2nd. I went out to catechise the parish, which was
sooner than ever, on account the crop was sooner got in than
usual. In my way to Bigton (the most remote place from
the Manse) my horse fell down on his nose, which made me
tumble over his head, and my foot being entangled in the
stirrup my heel was crushed by the fall, which yet I felt not
till night, when my wife rubbed it strongly, before the fire
with rum, and e'en then couldn't set it to the ground with
out great pain, yet next morning felt none. About 8 days
[afterwards] going out to examine again, my horse stumbled
and the saddle wanting a [crupper?] threw me again over his
head, and, falling upon my side on hard ground, I felt the
bruise so uneasy that I could scarce ride, sit, or speak with
ease for several days; which yet I concealed from my wife, least
she should take it too much to heart, and hoping, by rubbing
the place affected with a little rum frequently, the pain might
gradually abate; and by applying a softning plaster for several
weeks, it went off, by the blessing of God, and was effectually
In November I obtained a life-rent tack of Sumburgh's ten
marks land in Skelberry, which lies Rigg and Rendal,1 (as
called) with my glebelands, and which I was constrained to take
at 3rd more rent than usual, on account of troublesome neighbours
who were become so rude and mischievous, by themselves
and wicked children, that I could scarcely get a hen chicken
keeped for them, through envy, covetousness, and illnature, and
this I did without view of profit, but to live in peace.
December 3rd. 'Twixt four and five in the morning being
awake I perceived about 8 flashes of lightning, accompanied
mostly with loud peals of thunder which, blessed be His
worthy name, did no execution: but nothing is like to awaken
this stupid and secure generation.
In January, a large ship, load with masts from Russia for
Liverpool, was driven by a violent gale of wind upon Nesting
parish. 'Tis said about 27 men were all drowned, while two
boys were saved on the wreck: and, not far from said place,
another ship which accompanied the former, and had spent
her sails, yet got into a creek, cast anchor, and was saved
from wreck.
Jany. 21st. Being keeped back from the north parish for
two Sabbaths successively, by reason of stormy weather, this
day I ventured thither; and as the frost was such, and snow
so deep that I could not go on horseback, I travelled in boots
all the way, and returned at night; but next day found my
leggs so stiff that I could not walk without pain and halting,
which continued some days; but the same weather lengthened
to next Sabbath, 28th do. I was enabled to walk and lecture
in the Ness Kirk — praise to the Lord; and though I neglect
no opportunity for promoting the people's spiritual good, yet
understand there are too many unreasonable and ungrateful
wretches among them, that reflect on me for not performing
what's above my strength. If such have the form, 'tis all they
1 Rigg-and-randal, or rig-a-rendal: the ancient system of run-rig, common
in Shetland, and in many outlying places in Scotland and Ireland, until comparatively
want; and too common with the generality through the whole
countrey, 'who have only a name to live' etc., while the 'blind
lead the blind, and both tumble into the ditch.' All sorts seem
to be in a deep sleep. May the Lord Himself awaken them in
February. About the beginning of this month a rudder
and mast were driven ashore by a gale of easterly wind below
the Manse, supposed to come from a Dutch vessel that had
foundered at sea, an anker of Hollands gin being found at
same time.
In May, the Custom House yacht came to the countrey, and
carried off a smuggling vessel with a considerable quantity of
gin, tea, silks etc. But these manifold losses never damps the
ardor of these Dutch Merchants. Their motto is — Nothing
venture nothing have.
The rebellion which kindled in our American Colonies
about a year ago at length broke out into a flame in June
last, when 1400 were slain 'tis said on both sides, and still goes
on.1 The Disposer of all events knows what will be the issue.
They say they will rather die sword in hand than submit to
Slavery, which such a good King and Government never intended,
but only wanted they should pay their equal proportion
of taxes with fellow-subjects, and therefore may justly meet with
that slavery they so groundlessly dreaded. In midst of this awful
judgment we read that some of their ringleaders are marrying
and giving in marriage. O the woful security and stupidity
of mankind. Luxury and wickedness occasion of all.
June 14th. 'Twist six and seven in the morning, while in bed,
we were a little startled with a loud clap of thunder, which was
repeated with lightnings for some time after, which is usual here
only during the winter season, when it broke into the house of
one in this parish who was reputed a thief; and though he and
wife etc. narrowly escaped, when it suddenly went from the
fireside where they were sitting and broke up some chests in
the other end of the house, damaged their cloathes and killed
severals of their cattle in the byre, yet he was so stupid and
1 This apparently alludes to the battle of Bunker's Hill, June 17, 1775.
insensible of a preserving Providence that his only concern was
by an application to the Kirk session for money to make up
his loss, though contrary to his wife's inclinations. The lightning
broke also into other parishes, as in Bressay, Wharff1
etc. and did some damage; yet neither word nor rod serves to
awaken this secure generation.
Said month George Tocher, a Merchant from Aberdeen,
came to establish a correspondence for traffick with this
countrey, and carried along a box of an hundred copies of
the Catholic Church to sell in the north.2
August 25th. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was dispensed
at Ness Kirk before a crowded auditory, but alas!
little visible good effects appear.
At same time we had accounts that General Carleton had
beat the rebel Americans from Quebeck, killed their General
Montgomery, and about 600 were slain and taken prisoners, and
driven them out of the Province. 31,000 forces are sent over,
which may occasion a vast expense of blood and treasure. A
Government ship came here to recruit men.
In October 14, I set out for examination of the north parish,
where gross ignorance and wickedness abound, notwithstanding
all the pains taken on them, which shews that nothing will
effectually polish the rugged nature of man except divine grace.
In the beginning of this month, I had accounts of the death
of my nephew, William Farquhar, Captain of a stout Jamaica
Merchant ship, who had his scull fractured by a fall from an
horse in Jamaica, and proved his death etc.
In November, we had accounts of a vessel that went from
this countrey, Captain Bunthorn from Leith Commander,
having on board Mr. Mcpherson a Merchant with wife and two
children; also Mr. Lyons 3 a Merchant in Lerwick, who left
behind a wife and eleven children; that she was wrecked on
the coast of Bremen, and all on board perished. Soon after
in December a large Danish ship and two Dutch vessels were
1 Wharff: the parish of Quarff (Old Northern Hvarf).
2 This carefulness about the book was a prelude to Tocher's designs upon
the minister's daughter, as will afterwards appear.
3 Matthias Lyons, a well-known shopkeeper, or 'Merchant,' of the time.
wrecked on this isle, the same night that one Captain Lesslie
from this parish was on the coast on his return from Hamburgh,
yet wonderfully preserved and came safe into harbour after a
violent gale of easterly wind, whereby some commissions for
family necessaries came safe to hand; and I desire to bless
and thank a good and gracious God, that I never lost any of
my commissions, though have often been cheated by rogues,
and never found but one honest man among these tarrs and
This month I had a letter from the Sheriff enclosing the
King's proclamation for a day of Fasting and Prayer the 12th
Dec. on account of the Rebellion of our Colonists in North
America. But as the Parish could not be advertised so as to
keep that day, the Thursday following was observed in this
parish. I preached from Isaiah 58 and 6th. The day was
stormy, yet a good many attended; and Sabbath I preached
again on same text. During the application, a young man
before the pulpit broke out with a strong cry as if he had
been stabbed at the heart, which set the people a-staring;
but know not if attended with any saving effects; and O!
that it might prove a prelude to God's shooting his arrows
into the hearts of his enemies, and making them cry out —
'What shall I do to be saved?' etc.
I understood that Sumburgh and William Bruce, brother of
Symbister, being in the North Parish, had sent through the
people there to fast on the day appointed by the King before
the people in Dunrossness had notice of it. What they meant
by this step I know not; but it seemed to flow from the
enmity of the old serpent's seed, who must be always nibling
at what belongs not to them, though they get nothing but
broken heads for their pains.
Two battles have been fought with the rebels this season,
one in Long Island, where 3300 of them were killed and seven
thousand more near New York. Montgomery, one of their
Generals, was slain at Quebeck siege, with 600 men, and 'tis
said General Washington, another of them, had lost an arm
in last battle nigh the city of New York. Thus, first and last,
about 12,000 and upwards are slain already, besides some 1000
of King's troops.
January. The 65th of my age and 34th of my ministry.
May I be enabled by grace to spend precious time better than
ever, and to hold out and on to the end, faithful to death,
though Israel be not gathered; yet it is the desire of my soul
to gain souls to Christ; nor would I wish to live any longer
here than to promote his glory on earth etc. I can't but reflect
with pleasure and wonder on the all wise providence of a gracious
God to his poor people, as many times I have experienced;
even in what seemed at first against me I found afterwards
was working for my good, not only temporal, but spiritual
and eternal. When two tennants of Symbister's wanted land
in tack from me, he used both threatenings and promises, and
thereby got them prevailed on to stay on his lands, but soon
after another tenant falling in arrears to him, was turned
off and engaged in my service, at a very proper season, when
the man who laboured my glebe failed and gave it up; and
'tis likewise remarkable that two tennants more providentially
cast up, who seem all preferable to the former, and to
answer my purpose better. And as I determined to leave
this affair to the conduct of an all wise Providence was not
disappointed, as I have often been when left to my own
In June, a son of Mr. James Spence in Mid Yell, while
attending the school at Sumburgh,1 went off alone, though only
about 7 or 8 years old, and climbing the rocks in Sumburgh
Head for bird's nests and slipping his hold, tumbled into
the sea below, and couldn't be found, carried off it seemed
by the tide; and as this fell out on the Sabbath day might
serve for warning both to young and old, especially to that
family, where little regard is paid to the Sabbath or Gospel
In the end of October last, after my return from catechising
the North Parish I was seized with a vehement itching my
neck and thighs, occasioned by a hot watery humour in the
1 The unfortunate boy had probably the benefit of a tutor resident at
Sumburgh. There is little likelihood of a 'school' having been there.
blood, which was very disagreeable and uneasy, and continued
for eight months, resembling Paul's thorn in the flesh, in
which sense I took it as designed by a good and gracious
Father in Christ Jesus, to teach humility, to guard against
spiritual pride, to wean from the flesh, and put me in mind
of mortality, when this vile body shall soon be a prey to
vermin and be crumbled into dust. It pleased God to remove
this trouble as suddenly as it was brought on, by means of
a purging, being much subject to a constipation, through a
natural heat of the body.
Mr. Mitchell, minister at Tingwall, having told in the
Presbytery that Mr. James Finlayson, minister at Sandsting,
had cried out in his congregation at a Sacrament occasion
— Away with that false doctrine of original sin, Messieurs
Mair, Minister at Bressay, and Sands, Minister at Lerwick,
were present, and heard the same; and when I threatened a
prosecution, Mr. Mair said he would join me, and yet when
I petitioned the Presbytery at this June meeting, to call
him to their barr, these three denied they heard such expression,
and Mr. Sands said he cried only — Away with all false
teachers — which greatly surprised me to find any, especially
men of their character, so double and deceitful, so great a
scandal and disgrace to their function, that I would be loath
to admit people of such dispositions to a Sacrament or to the
office of a lay elder. As there were none present save these
three and the Clerk, they seemed to have all connived together
to prevent a rebuke, which was all I intended at present,
to guard against the spreading of such infectious doctrine;
which emboldened the criminal to turn the chase, and threaten
to prosecute me as a slanderer, which did no way intimidate
me; for had he made such an attempt, I should
not only have insisted for these corrupt clergy being put
on oath, but many of the most sensible in Tingwall parish
In July, the people being apprised that the Government
had sent over a tender, with a demand of an hundred men
for their service, they fled from their houses and betook themselves
to their hills and skulking places, which made me take
notice of this on the Sabbath from the pulpit, saying they made
great haste in running away for fear of the Pressgang,1
who did not want to hang them or put them in prison, but
only to serve their King and Countrey in the suppression of
Rebells in America, who had risen up against their lawful
superiors without any just grounds, and might be better
employed for a year or two than at home; for when the
rebellion was over, they might return again with their pockets
full of money; and O! that they were as eager in fleeing
from the wrath of a Sin avenging God, to the blood of
sprinkling for pardon and cleansing etc.
August 31st. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was
celebrated as usual about this time as most convenient for
the parish. There were between 500 and 600 communicants
at seven tables; each table holds about 80. People attend
well, but alas with little life, or heat in the affections through
great restraint of the Spirit's operations.
In September we were alarmed with American privateers 2
being on the coast, and had taken two Greenlanders etc.
The inhabitants of Lerwick were afraid of their coming into
Bressay Sound and burning their town. A large three--
masted vessel from Archangel came into Quendal bay, Sabbath
morning, the 21st, in darkness, and fired several guns not
knowing where they were, and threw anchor, but no boats
could board her by reason of the height of wind and sea;
she run a risk of being wrecked. She was bound for London.
October 7th. The rainy season keeped the corns long
green, and 'tis rare to find a dry day from morning to night:
and while severals are talking of their hay being rotten and
useless, and we dreaded the loss of ours, it was taken in this
day in pretty good plight beyond expectation, praise to His
1 Many Shetlanders were seized by the pressgang at this time, and up to
near the close of the French wars, in the early years of the century. Many
stories are told of escapes from pursuit, and of the hiding-places used.
2 Privateers: private ships, armed with lettres de marque, were at this time
recognised in the European and American wars, and made great havoc among
merchant shipping. Several Shetlanders, it has been stated, attained to
eminence in this questionable line of glory, but the facts have never been
sufficiently authenticated.
worthy name, for all his undeserved favours. The bear [bere]
is all cut down, and upwards of 15 thrave 1 of oats, when
few have come that length, the heavens still lowering and
threatening: but O how is mercy mixed with judgment when
all was in danger of being lost.
October 13th. The hay stack gathered heat through the
carelessness of a servant who had thrown in wet hay mixed
with the dry, and occasioned a vehement smoak, which obliged
me to cause pull it down forthwith, and put it again in small
screws,2 which, to great astonishment, recovered in four days'
time, and was re-stacked upon the 18th day, time driest and
best day we have got this harvest, as severals observed; the
corns cutt down and mostly taken in, wherefore I intend to go
out to catechising work in the parish upon the 20th inst.
November 20th. My daughter Nell, the eldest, was married
at Culleaster, 3 by the minister of Lerwick, to George Tocher,
Merchant in Aberdeen, contrary to my inclinations. He came
here under a pretence of settling a correspondence for traffick
with this countrey, June 1776. It appeared they had then been
mutually engaged, and were carrying on a secret correspondence
by letters, and she had the impudence to desire him to come
over at this dangerous season to be joined to her in marriage;
and no means essayed could dissuade them from it, which
made me passive in the affair, as there seemed to be a hand of
Providence in it; and though he could afford her no settlement
for life, yet as he appears to be a Sincere Christian I was afraid
she might do worse. She was too forward in drawing up with
young men [erased, but legible]. The late storms have brought
several wrecks on this parish.
December 5th. The second packet sailed with the married
couple as passengers; they had fine weather. Captain Robinson,
a smuggler from Gottenburgh, sold quantities of tea; but the
1 Thrave: Old Northern Threfi, 24 sheaves.
2 In the native tongue Skru is the term for a stack, or rick, of corn or hay.
Icelandic, or Old Northern, Skruf, the same. The word occurs as early as in
the Edda.
3 Culleaster, in the parish of Sandwick. The marriage did not take place
in her father's house, but at a place five to seven miles distant.
Custom Officers were afraid to board him. He went from
Levenwick to Walls. Received accounts of the arrival of a
vessel from Hamburgh with whom our Commission for house
necessaries were sent, notwithstanding of being endangered
by a storm and privateers; and desire to bless a kind Providence,
that I never yet lost anything in this way. An awful
Providence befell a daughter of Symburgh's by an old stupid
man thrusting a knife in her eye, that is like to deprive her
of the sight of it, which put Sumburgh into such a rage
that he stabbed the man in the breast with a knife, but not
January 1st. Our days are as an handbreadth and years are
as nothing before thee. Man at his best estate is altogether
Vanity etc. O! to be helped to improve precious time and
talents better than ever, that when the last period of life comes
I may be enabled, through grace, to give up my accounts
with joy and not with grief. And O! that God would be
pleased to smile upon my poor labours and endeavours, that
I may see or hear of the travail of Christ's soul in the conversion
of poor sinners to God, which my very heart is set upon,
and nothing in time would afford greater joy.
Jan. 24. Three men in Cunningsburgh with Sumburgh's
clerk and a boy in crossing Clift Sound1 were so infatuated
as to come upon a point that lay out a little from the shore
at Sandsere,2 and a lump of sea arising overset the boat and
all were drowned. On Sabbath, the day following, a boy came
into the Church during sermon, and called out several men to
take up their corpses then driven ashore — 'tis said they had
been drunk. A little before, a Scotch vessel from Riga loaden
with flax and lint-seed was stranded at Cunningsburgh, but
the crew were saved.
1 Cliftsound: the sea on the east side of the Clifts of Cunningsburgh. Cliftsound
proper is on the west side of the country, between Cunningsburgh and
Burra Isle.
2 Sandsere, or Sands Ayre: the beach at Sand (Icelandic, Sands Eyrr).
In Feb. several vessels came from the south with meal
and potatoes very seasonably for supply of Lerwick and the
countrey, that were in great straits. The King's proclamation
for a General Fast to be keeped on Feb.26 was read
from the Pulpit Sabbath preceding, for averting God's wrath
and imploring his blessing on our arms for subduing the
American Rebells who had taken General Burgoyn and some
1000s of our men prisoners of war.1
In March, the nation was in a great fermentation and
unanimous in order to prosecute the war with vigour by
raising men and money. City and Counties vied with one
another for suppressing the rebellion. In April, we were
alarmed with war from France, and numbers were raised in
this countrey for sea and land service, who went more readily
because of the dearth, the victual being at 3s. 6d. per lispund,
and sin the cause of all.
In April my wife was suddenly seized with a violent asthma
that threatened a dissolution, which obliged me to run an
express for the doctor, and my sister to Lerwick. When my
sister came, she was suddenly seized with a stitch etc. that
threatened death. So uncertain are all things here. Life and
death depend entirely on his sovereign will and pleasure. By
the divine blessing on the use of means, they both recovered,
when Mrs. Hunter of Lunna that was younger & stronger
was suddenly cut off.
In May though 'tis said upwards of 6000 bolls of
victual were come (It took as much more to supply the
countrey, and cost 8000 Libs. Ster.) to the countrey, yet
still needed more, though it rose higher in the price.2 In
Fair Isle they had none till a boat was sent to Lerwick, and
1 The battle of Saratoga, on 17th October 1777, in which General Burgoyne
was compelled to capitulate, with the loss of his whole army, 5000 muskets, and
a large train of artillery.
2 The scarcity in the Islands, and consequent suffering, seem at this time to
have been really great. On the 6th of August 'the lamentable state of the
poor in this year of great Dearth and Scarcity' was taken into the 'serious
consideration' of the Kirk-session of Dunrossness, who did their utmost to
mitigate the distress.
before it came to the isle one man was found dead for want, (or
rather some other disease — interlined). Wickedness abounded
there ere also; 'tis said Brough1 the proprietor brought in a
strumpet who set him up against the best people of the isle,
for discountenancing their wickedness, which prompted him
to give them warnings for removal: — the Sabbath was profaned,
the Kirk fallen. Shall I not visit for these things etc.
The whole creation groans. Horses, cattle etc. were dying
fast through the countrey through scarcity and badness of the
fodder. I suffered in the common calamity — two horse beasts
and 9 cattle, and two of these milch cows near calving; yet,
blessed be His great name who mixes mercy with judgment,
they were soon supplied by purchase of three cows and two
pretty young staggs.2
In August, we had accounts of a running naval fight of
one of our squadrons under Admiral Keppel with a French
squadron off Brest3 — is of little consequence, though we got
the better of them. Commissioners sent to the Congress in
America with proposals of peace — Re Infecta. Severe claps
of thunder, with strong flashes of lightnings, were here in
the nighttime.
October. We had a sett of fine weather, which ripened the
corn well, and all was got in safe, and in good condition
beyond expectation, for a severe storm of wind that blasted
some and threatened the whole preceded the harvest; but
the Lord was pleased to mix mercy with judgment and disappointed
our fears; otherwise [we] had been in a worse
situation than last season, and numbers in the Countrey would
probably have perished by famine. O! that men would praise
the Lord for His goodness etc.
November. The packet brings accounts that the war with
1 Stewart of Brough in Orkney, then proprietor of the Fair Isle. On the
death of the last of that family, the island was purchased, in 1866, by the
present Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh.
2 Stagg, or Staig, a young horse.
3 This was the unfortunate engagement of the 12th of July, which led to the
trial of Admiral Keppel, in which, however, he was acquitted.
France and America goes on, and 20,000 Russians and 20 sail
of the line of battle are expected in the Downs by the end
of January from Russia to assist Gt. Brittain.
N.B. A fine young horse of the Norway breed had perished
in a marsh, had it not been discovered in the daytime, and
seasonably rescued, and the mercy was more remarkable as none
I had fitted my wife so well for riding. A Danish ship from
Iceland wrecked on Whalsey isle; the cargo of tallow, hides
etc. was lost, but the crew saved. I was called to assist at the
Sacrament of the Lord's Supper in September at Lerwick, and
one Miss Eliz. Grierson, one of the most accomplished and
virtuous young ladies in the countrey, was a communicant there.
Her wedding was soon after fixed, preparations made for it,
and about the same time she was suddenly cutt off, and the
provisions served for the funeral — an awful warning to those
of her sex whose daft heads are soon laid in the dust.
In Jan. and Feb. All the principal cities and corporations
of Scotland finding a Bill had taken place in England and
Irland with little or no opposition, and an Act of Parliament
passed for the repeal of the penal statutes against Papists,
whereby they are put on an equal footing with Protestants for
purchasing land and educating of youth, which may endanger
the nation's liberties and priviledges sacred and civil; therefore
harmoniously concurred in opposing to the utmost of their
power any such Act being passed in Parliament in reference to
Scotland, which is a token for good. The Americans are said
to be 60 millions ster. in debt, and are so mad as to make over
their lands and trade to France; the Virginias to send 20,000
hoggsheads Tobacco at 6¼ d, rather than submitt to Brittain,
though 'tis said several provinces are repenting of their folly,
and that the Carolinas and Georgia are willing to be reconciled
to the mother countrey; however the war with them and France
is like to go on with more vigour than ever, and time will discover
the event. The will of the Lord be done. Sin is the
cause of all mischief. The King's proclamation for a fast,
February 9th, will avail little, unless there is true repentance
evidenced by thorough reformation of heart and life among
all ranks, whereof little appears etc. We had accounts in
March that the Popish Bill was thrown out and quashed.
July 2nd. I repaired to the Fair Isle, where I preached two
Sabbath days successively, joined two pairs in marriage, baptized
5 children, and rebuked two couples for ante-nuptial fornication,
publickly, and several others for Sabbath profanation,
for which reason I read from the pulpit the present King
George the 3rd's proclamation against profanity and immorality.
God had blasted their crops for the two preceding years, yet
did they not return to Him. Severals of the best Christians in
the Isle had left it, and therefore had not freedom to celebrate
the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper among them as formerly I
was wont to do. I found a considerable decrease of the number
of inhabitants: four families were ruined, their houses lying
desolate, and three of the heads thereof were drowned carrying
into the isle supplys for their families. I returned July 14th
and found my family in their ordinary — praise to His worthy
name who also afforded good weather for passage; though in
my return under the isle, a blast of wind filled the boat's sail,
whereby the mast was like to give way, and made one cry
out of returning back; yet, having bound an oar to the place
affected, they ventured forward, and it pleased a good God to
grant fair and easy weather all the way to our designed landingplace.
Soli Deo Gloria.
In Septr. 3 or 4 large ships were seen off Bressay Sound,
which had two sloops in tow, which they had taken in their
way from Leith to Lerwick, which put the inhabitants of
Lerwick in a great consternation. They were said to be one
of 50, another of 40, and a 3rd of 30 guns. One of these
sloops broke loose in a storm of wind, and came into Bressay
Sound, having two Americans and two Frenchmen on board,
which a cutter's crew who was then in Bressay Sound enlisting
men here for the service of Government, seized, as also the
crew of an American merchantman loaded with tobacco and
Loggwood, who had stranded on the island of Burray during
the storm foresaid. We had the finest crops here ever known,
and got in mostly by the 20th of this month. Thus Providence
mixes mercy with judgment.
As the Spainyards joined with France in the war, they
appeared, 'tis said, before Portsmouth, with 100 sail of their
combined fleet, 60 whereof were of the line of battle. But upon
Sir Charles Hardy's appearing with one of our squadrons of 30
sail of the line, they fled speedily off for the coast of France,
where Admiral Keppel had a skirmish with the Brest fleet, but
as he did not renew the fight, was tried but honourably acquitted,
as the French veered off, and fled into their harbours.1
Sir William How [Howe] was blamed for not prosecuting
the war with vigour against the rebellious Colonies in N.
America, and General Clinton got the command there.
One Paul Jones,2 son to a gardiner of the Earl of Galloway's,3
a wicked desperado, whom the American Congress entrusted
with the command of the above 4 ships of war, took two of
our small ships of war, and carried them into Holland, which
the states refused to deliver up and was like to breed war in
Holland. The combined fleets threatened Brittain or Irland
with an invasion, but they are prepared to receive them, and
are still augmenting our fleets. But may we never trust to the
arm of flesh. Gibraltar is besieged, and the Spaniards repulsed.
The French have taken Grenada and St. Vincent,
West India isles, and used our people badly, which may be
retaliated upon themselves.
The Popish ruffians in Irland, called the 'White Boys'4
1 There seems to be some confusion between this story and the action under
Admiral Keppel in the previous year, 1778, already referred to.
2 John Paul Jones. Born at Arbigland, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright,
on 6th July 1747. He went to sea, and, settling in Virginia, embraced the cause
of the Colonies, and got the command of a brig of 18 guns, with which he
visited the coasts of Scotland, and performed some bold exploits. In 1779 he
received the command of a small squadron of French ships, under American
colours, which caused consternation on the British coasts. Mill here corroborates
the story that he appeared off the east coast of Shetland, but was
driven off by a gale, as on the memorable occasion of his visit this same year,
1779, to the Firth of Forth.
3 This should be the Earl of Selkirk, not Galloway.
4 White Boys: an illegal association of Irish peasants, originally organised
in the county of Tipperary, early in the reign of George III. Professing to aim
at the redress of grievances, they committed many cruel outrages, until the
movement was suppressed, only, however, to reappear in other forms. They
wore white shirts in their expeditions, which, like those of their successors, the
Moonlighters' of the present day, were usually by night.
being cloathed with a white jacket, have frequent insurrections.
A popish Priest at their head offered £5 Ster. for the head of
a Protestant, which obliged the Protestants to raise themselves
into Judgment Companies, to the number about 50,000, seized
on the villanous Priest to be tried for life, and killed several
of these Banditti.1
Jan. Though the French trade is mostly ruined by our
privateers, and there has been frequent skirmishes by sea, and
also by land in America, yet no decisive action. The war continues,
the nation is burdened with taxes and Publick Debt
still increasing to 200 mill. ster.
A large Danish ship from Irland, bound for Christian Sand,
stranded on Vehementrie,2 a small isle on the west part of this
countrey, was plundered by the country people of Linen, Butter
etc. for which they were imprisoned at Lerwick etc.3
In March we received accounts that the Irish had obtained
a free trade to the West Indies and Africa.4 Count Lestrange
the French Admiral made an attack upon Savannah in Georgia,
joined with General Lincoln and 3000 of the rebells; but was
repulsed and wounded with the loss, 'tis said, of 2000 men,
chiefly owing, under Providence, to the timeous succour of
Colonel Maitland,5 (grandchild of James, Earl of Seafield, last
Chancellor of Scotland) with 800 men to the garrison commanded
by General Prevost. A strong Spanish fort at Honduras
Bay was stormed and taken by Capt. Dalrymple. 'Tis
said affairs wear a better aspect for government in America etc.
1 This is wild rumour rather than sober history.
2 Vementry, parish of Aithsting, west side of Shetland.
3 As is well known, a wrecked ship was by some regarded as a gift of Providence.
The prayer, not that a ship should be wrecked, but that, if a wreck
should take place, the Almighty would be pleased to send it to the poor isle
of —, if not verified as an actual and literal address to Deity, is yet entirely
in the spirit and feeling prevalent for long in these islands, as in other remote
4 This was prior to the Act of Union, while there were still restrictions on
Irish trade.
5 This is the Colonel Maitland whose great-grandson lately succeeded to the
Earldom of Lauderdale, on the death of his remote kinsman the late Earl of
Lauderdale, who was killed by lightning in 1884.
than they have done since the commencement of Hostilities.
A general fast, by publick authority, was observed through
Brittain in February last, when I preached upon text Matthew
xii. and 25th — 'A kingdom divided against itself is brought
to desolation,' which may Heaven in mercy prevent to our
nation, though our sins deserve it.
Sir George Rodney, with 18 ships of war, attacked 11 ships
of the line commanded by Don Juan de Langara near the
Spanish coast, Jan. 16, took five of 72 guns, sunk one and
another took fire, and blew up with powder.1
July 16. I received the best news I have heard of a long
time, that my youngest daughter Bell was under deep convictions
of Sin, both original and actual, and as attended with
several hainous aggravations. May the Lord of his infinite
mercy for Christ Jesus his sake, bring this law work to a happy
issue in his good time, that she may glorify His great name in
time and through Eternity, Amen. I was afraid that these
convictions would wear off, which alas, seems to be the case,
as no good effects yet appear.
In Oct. A Russian frigate was wrecked on an Holm2 nigh
Whalsey, and 'tis said that of 180 souls on board, only 5 were
saved, who were sent off for Hamburgh. 'Tis said also that
the Spanish Colonies have rebelled against that government
and set up a King of their own.
In Aug. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was celebrated
at Sandwick. I had the promise of an assistant, who
was suddenly seized with a violent cold and hoarseness that he
fail'd, but blessed be His worthy name who enabled me notwithstanding
to go through with the work, preaching all the
day, and serving seven tables. A few days after, I was called
to assist in the same work at Lerwick, and in October catechised
Sandwick Parish.
In Nov. we had accounts that the French had landed 6000
men in New England to assist the rebells, and that they proposed
1 This defeat of Langara's fleet, off Cape St. Vincent, was one of the most
gallant of Admiral Rodney's exploits.
2 Holm: a small outlying islet.
to send over 20,000 more with a view to regain Canada, and
that Brittain was sending over 10,000 men to Oppose their
designs. Lord Cornwallis gained a complete victory over it
rebel army commanded by General Gates of 7000, though he
had only about 1700 men, took all their cannon, baggage, and
many prisoners.
The President of the Congress was taken on his way to
Holland for obtaining a loan of £600,000 Ster. Said Mr.
Laurens wanted to be treated as an Ambassador from the
American States, but was sent to the Tower, where Lord
George Gordon, brother to the Duke of Gordon,1 is also confined
for heading a mob at London, who wanted to have the
acts against Popery repon'd, and had insulted the members of
Parliament in both houses, and done great mischief, by burning
houses and Popish Chappels to the value, 'tis said, of a
million sterling, prompted thereto, as supposed, by the emissaries
of France, as severals who were shot in the squabble were
found to be Papists with French gold in their pockets. Many
of the ringleaders were executed, both of men and women.
About the latter end of 1779 we had accounts that two of
my wife's sisters' Husbands, Messieurs Bowie and Polson, were
called off the stage. As Mr. Bowie was a man of a Christian
and publick spirit, and managed my little affairs at Edinburgh,
I was at a loss where to find such a trusty person to succeed
him; but blessed be His worthy name who soon directed to
one of the same name, Ralph Bowie Esq. a gentleman of an
excellent character, a writer in Edinburgh, and equally qualified,
who undertook that business, my first wife's portion being
in dependence, by the final settlement of Bailie Thompson's
affairs, and £200 ster. my wife's present portion, settled on
H. Ford's estate, who had given way, also in danger.
As the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge
threatened to deprive my parish of both their schools, unless a
legal School was established according to law, and had actually
scored them out of the yearly scheme sent to Presbytery, if I
1 Lord George Gordon. Born in 1750. Son of Cosmo George, Duke of
Gordon. The great riots here referred to led to his Lordship's arrest, but he was
acquitted of the charge of treason. He was afterwards committed to Newgate
on other charges, and died there in 1793.
had not timeously sent up two young men to be examined by
them in order to continue them in said station, which they
were pleased to do, notwithstanding my Chief Heritors were
very refractory, though they had been often importuned to set
about this business; and when I obtained their consent, and
was desired to draw up an obligation to this effect, they
boggled at subscribing the same, because I proposed they
should pay the one half, and the people the other; and though
I told them the people would rather pay the whole than the
Parish should be wholly deprived of Schools, being only one
penny ster. upon a mark of land, yet are still so unreasonable
as to stand out.
'Tis said the Americans begin to see their error. General
Henhold has forsaken them, and is raising two regiments for
Government service, and that the French are blocked up in
Rhod Island by Admiral Arbuthnot.
January. O! to be running the Christian race heavenward,
as time passeth. The face of publick affairs still wears a gloomy
aspect. 'Tis said (New Gazette) that the next campaign in
America is like to be the most bloody that has yet been since
the rebellion there commenced, as the French, our inveterate
enemies, are threatning to pour in many thousands of their
troops there for assistance. One Trumble, son to the rebell
Governor of Connecticut province, was found in London, carrying
on a secret correspondence with the rebels, in conjunction
with one Tyler, and another called Temple, the worst of the
three, who pretended to be a refugee from the Congress, and
had been employed and rewarded by the Government while he
was acting underhand against the same. Trumble is closely
confined; the other two made their escape, but narrow search
is making for them.
In Feb. by an armed cutter that came to Bressay Sound, we
heard accounts that Brittain proclaimed war against Holland
Dec. 22nd, and had taken 700 of their merchant ships since;
and that Jamaica and most of the Caribbee Islands had their
sugar canes etc. destroyed by a Hurricane, an earthquake
following thereon, with many thousands of lives and ships lost;
yet may truly be said of this blind, secure, and sottish generation
'For all this ye have not returned to me, saith the Lord.
Therefore his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched
out still.'
In March a fast was keep'd here on account of the War, by
the King's proclamation, as it had been in Scotland, Feb. 22nd,
and was very proper likewise on account of a pestilential fever
that carried off severals, men and women, young and old,
through the whole ministry, and still continues. O! that the
Lord would pour out a spirit of prayer and supplication,
repentance and reformation of heart and life, that he may be
pleased in mercy to return and restore peace and health to our
land etc. Lord George Gordon was tried, before the Court of
King's Bench last month, for high treason, as heading the
mob foresaid, but was honourably acquitted by a jury and
270 soldiers etc. of the Earl of Sutherland's regiment were
sent to, Lerwick by Government,1 under the command of a
Major, 3 Captains, 4 lieutenants and 7 Ensigns, with 12 guns
for erecting batteries etc. to keep off the Dutch etc. Eustatia
Isle in West India is taken by Admiral Rodney, with 150 ships,
and 2½ millions of money.
April. A Greenlander took a stout French Privateer, and
brought her into Bressay Sound. Another of the same kind
was taken off Fair Isle by one of our frigates. The French
were so scurvy as to strip the Fair Isle people of the caps on
their heads and other things in the boat. They were brought
to Bressay Sound, and swimming ashore in the nighttime, got
in boats to a sloop in the bay, and while they were cutting the
cable in order to go off with her, the master awaking alarmed
the guard, which prevented their escape. The soldiers are
making a broad road above Lerwick for an easy communication
'twist the north and south batteries.
1 This is perhaps the only authentic statement in existence of the military
equipment of the Lerwick garrison at this time. The fort, originally erected,
it is said, during the Commonwealth, was repaired and completed at this time,
and named Fort Charlotte after the Queen of the reigning sovereign, George III.
June 11th. A Squadron of warships is cruizing on this
coast for the Dutch East or West India ships. Such a long--
continued drought without any rain, was not seen here in the
memory of man. 'Tis judgment like.
July. Three of the Dutch E. India ships being informed of
their danger on this coast by a French Privateer off the Western
Isles, changed their course and stood for Norway, whereof the
Berwick, of 74 guns etc. having notice, went for that coast.
The Packet was taken in her way to Leith, and ransomed, 'tis
said, for 500 Libs. Ster. and that one of our frigates took that
Privateer of 20 guns after an obstinate fight of several hours
on the Orkney coast, and carried her into Kirkwall Roads.
Sep. 19. Received accounts of the Berwick Ship of war
foresaid. In an engagement with some Dutch war ships, who
were conveying a fleet for the West Indies, [she] had lost 70 men
and as many wounded. Mr. Farquhar, my sister's husband, being
pilot on this coast, had left her some weeks before, and where
he had gone for high wages and good entertainment, there he
got his death-stroke, being seized with the jaundice owing to
bad water, which soon cutt him off, and this day I am called
to attend his funerals at Lerwick.
In said engagement, Aug. 5th, Admiral Parker, with 7 war
ships, engaged the Dutch Admiral Zoutmann with a superior
number, qrof 'tis said 4 were sunk and the remainder, with the
merchant ships, obliged to return home and our war ships were
so shattered that they went for England to be repaired; yet
both claimed the victory etc.1
Dec. There's no prospect of peace — rather fresh preparations
for continuing the war. 'Tis said 30 millions ster. are
to be raised for the ensuing year's expenses for sending more
ships and men against the French, Spaniards, and rebells in
America. Yet the nation in general seems to remain secure
and senseless under all frowning dispensations of Providence.
1 This was the desperate engagement off the Dogger-bank. After a cannonade
of 3½ hours both fleets lay like logs in the water, unable to prolong the
fight or do mutual injury. The Dutch bore away to the Texel, losing one of
their largest ships, which sank.
May the Lord awaken all ranks in mercy to a deep sense of sin
and guilt, with their fearful aggravations, and stir up many to
sigh and cry for the abominations of the land, that He may
repent of the evils we deserve, return again to us with his
wonted favour and leave a blessing behind Him etc.
Jan. One of the hairy Comets, so called, appeared here after
sunset, about the bigness of Venus, on the 22nd of last mouth,
sending forth sprays of light from its disk; and next night it
appeared as bigg as Jupiter. Afterwards seemed less to the
8th of Jany. when it appeared as bigg as Jupiter again, more
high and westward, and then disappeared by cloudy weather.
Jan. 13. An English 3 masted vessel load with timber, 'tis
said, was stranded said night, nigh St. Ringand's Isle, and none
saved of 15 but the mate and 3 more sailors, by a warp. The
wreck drove to Burray. Upon the 20th and 21st said comet
appeased again more large and bright than formerly. The
vessel foresaid came from Dantsick and belonged to Liverpool;
and though the mate called Seabroke would speak to none till
on his knees he prayed to God openlie giving God thanks for
so signal a deliverance, yet soon forgot it, and gave himself
to his bottle etc. and the Captain, 'tis said, perished drunk.
Though a fast was enjoyned by Government to be keeped
through the Kingdom on the 7th of Feb. yet alas little reformation
of heart or life appears. Luxery and sensuality, plays
and comedies, are hotly pursued, and hence ensues numerous
sales of lands, houses, and bankrupcies. The Island of Eustatia
retaken, through the security of Governor Colonel Cockburn,
by the Marquis de Bowville, Governor of Martinica, tho' they
had in the garrison 677 men with 60 cannon.
General Cornwallis, with 3000 men, taken prisoners by the
French and Americans,1 and no appearance of peace with God
or man.
1 This disastrous capitulation occurred at Yorktown, where 7000 men were
surrendered, in the month of October 1781, after a three weeks' investment. It
was the decisive engagement, and virtually terminated hostilities. Negotiations
for peace followed, and the independence of the American Colonies was acknowledged
in 1783.
In March the Comet foresaid appeared more westerly and
declined gradually towards the horizon, and after 3 months'
continuance or thereby it disappeared. Such another is said
to have appeared in Nov. 1555, called the fiery Besome, for
3 months, and a strange fire descending, as from Heaven, upon
the Border, and consumed a deal of corns on each side the
Tweed, but most in England, and that warrs ensued etc.
In May, we had accounts of a hot engagement 'twixt
Admirals Rodney, Hood and Drake, with the French fleet in
the West Indies, commanded by Count de Grass,1 with about
40 ships of war on each side, which lasted from morning to
sunset, about 11½ hours, when 5 line of battle ships of the
enemy were taken and one sunk, among which was the Admiral
and his ship of 110 guns. In the East Indies, Admiral Hughs
took Ceylon, their chief fortress, from the Dutch, and two
East India ships, loaden with spiceries from Batavia, and
valued at 400,000 £ Ster. and the King of Candy offered to
joyn the English for expelling the Dutch out of Ceylon. 'Tis
said also that Admiral How2 was in quest of a Dutch squadron
in the North Seas, who were cruising off this coast to protect
their East India ships in their returning.
In the beginning of June, the Hairy Comet above mentioned
appeared again after sunset, about a due south.
About the end of said month the Packet brought accounts
that Admiral Rodney had taken and destroyed 11 sail of the
line, and had two French Admirals his prisoners and killed
15,000 of their men; also that he had retaken St Kitts, with
a fleet of ships, arms, ammunition etc. ready to land there,
with men of war, their convoys. 'Tis said General Clinton
has come over with proposals of peace, and the Congress
want to have their Government put on the same footing
with Irland, by having a Lord Lieutenant and Parliament.
1 Engagement with De Grasse. Rodney is said to have had thirty-six ships
of the line, De Grasse forty-four. De Grasse's ship was believed to be the largest
that had ever been built in Europe.
2 Admiral How: Richard Earl Howe. He died in 1799, after very distinguished
There's a strange distemper called Influenza1 rages through
Brittain, in the same manner as it did in the east countries
of Russia, Denmark etc. though as yet has not proved so
mortal. People are variously affected with it, with swelled
faces, sore throats, breasts and stomachs, dizzy heads, coughs,
violent pains and feverishness; for remedy is prescribed a
decoction of 2 oz. lint-seed, 2 do. of Liquorish-stick bruised
and boiled over a slow fire in a pint water to half do. then
strained and mixed with 4 oz. powdered suggar candy, also
some lemon juice, brandy or rum; take frequently a spoonfull
thereoff etc.
July 12. I received the sad news of my sister Elizabeth's
sudden death. My father left 8 of us, on a kind and gracious
God, who provided well for us all and his relict also. The
eldest son James died soon after birth, before my father. There
were two sons and two daughters elder than I, and two sons
and two daughters younger. Another James and Laurence
died, the one in the East, the other in the West Indies; my
elder brother Andrew died at London in the service of government;
Isabel at Edinburgh a young woman, Margt. my eldest
sister at Lerwick, and now Mrs. Farquhar, 2 who was about
a year younger than myself, who now alone remain alive of
all my father's family; and may I be daily preparing for my
unchangeable state, and be ready at my Lord and Master's
call and command to enter those eternal mansions of Bliss
prepared for them that love and long for his appearance etc.
'Tis said Admiral Rodney has taken 6 Spanish men of war.
Octr. 20. This day keeped back from Publick worship at
Sandwick by stormy wind and snow that covered the ground
while a great part of the corns through the Parish are not
cut down, and thereby hindered from going out to catechising
1 Influenza: Catarrhus, epidemic catarrh. This disease, new to the
Diarist, has been known and described since the days of Hippocrates. Sydenham,
in 1675, enlarged upon it. The influenza of the years 1781 and 1782, here
referred to, was said by some to have originated in China, travelling through
Asia into Europe, and thence to America.
2 Mrs. Farquhar, widow of a pilot of that name in Lerwick. The name still
lingers in a small property, Glenfarquhar.
work, and longer than usual. 'Tis said that while the 'Royal
George,' one of our first rates, was careening at Portsmouth,
a sudden gale overset her, whereby 1200 persons were drowned,
and among these Admiral Kempenfield1; yet, alas, these awful
Providences have little effect upon this blind, secure, and
hardened generation. The Sutherland Fencibles at Lerwick
were succeeded by a like number of Gordons. Among the
Sutherland soldiers I found one James McKay, a Sergeant,
who communicated at the Sacrament here in Aug. last, a
serious and judicious christian; and blessed be a gracious God,
who still keeps up a remnant e'en among the worst and in the
worst of times.
January. I am now arrived to my three score and ten
etc. O to be always ready to give up my soul into the
hands of the faithful God through Christ Jesus, the blessed
Redeemer etc. The war goes on with France, Spain, Holland
and America, and little hopes appear as yet of peace. The
united forces of France and Spain made a furious attack in
Oct. last on the Garrison of Gibraltar by sea and land, but
were baffled in the attempt by Governor Elliot, a Scotsman,
by firing hot bullets on ten of their men of war containing
212 brass guns of 26 Libs ball, whereby they were totally
destroyed, and our people saved 'twixt 300 and 400 of their
men and let them go home, and though their combined fleet
consisted about 50 ships of the line, and Admiral How had
only about 36, yet shifted a close engagement and at last fled
for Cadiz.2
In Feb. we had accounts of peace made up at Paris, Jan.
1 This calamity occurred on 29th August 1782. The ill-fated ship, 108 guns,
was the principal vessel of Lord Howe's fleet. About 1100, including 300
women and children, who were on board at the time, went down. About 900,
including the Admiral, Kempenfeldt, perished.
2 The gallant defence of Gibraltar, by General Sir George Augustus Elliot,
Lord Heathfield, one of the most brilliant events in British history. The
besiegers opened fire on 13th September 1782, from 400 pieces of cannon, with
the disastrous result to them well known. Upwards of 2000 men are said to
have been lost by the enemy.
20th, whereby independency was yielded to the States of 13
provinces in America and trade settled with them etc. France
gets Tobago in the West Indies and Pondicherry in the East
Indies. Spain gets back East and West Florida (This is
contradicted), and retains Minorca. The Dutch accedes to the
peace, 'tis said, while our luxury and gross sins of all kinds
have cost us an hundred millions ster. with the loss supposed
of an 100,000 lives. 'Tis observable that the crop in 1781
was plentiful in grain, which the people abused by gluttony
and drunkenness, but the fodder scarce, whereby many of the
cattle died; and the crop 1782 was plentiful in fodder, but
lean and scarce of corn, whereby these belly gods are pinched.
The meal in Lerwick at 6s 6d. ster. per lispund.1
In July we went for the south, and was some days at
Dunbar; all the way saw a rich crop on the ground. They
had harvest begun the first of August. Stayed about 19
days and returned to Lerwick Aug. 14th in safety. Soli
Deo Gloria. 10,000£ worth of meal was allotted for the
Highlands and Islands. 500 Bolls was sent to Orkney, and
as much for Zetland, whereof 75 came to this parish; yet
still in want.2 The season rainy and threatening. Turks
and Russians are at war. France and England, jealous of
one another, are busily building men of war, which threatens
a sudden rupture.
In the beginning of Sept. the hairy Comet that appeared
last year in the south and west appeared now after sunset
in the East. 54 bolls more came from Government for the
poor, whereof upwards of 30 lispds. were allotted for this
Parish, and 9 bolls sold to pay the freight were deduced
from the 54 sent for the whole countrey.
In Oct. there w as sent by the Barrons of Exchequer
350 bolls meal for this countrey, and as much to follow, to
be sold at 26 pence per lispband to the poor for keeping
down the price of meal. Catechising work was finished in the
1 Lispund: 18 lbs. Scots measure.
2 A portion of the Minute-Book of the Kirk-session, embracing a period of
about three years, 1782 to 1785, is lost; consequently no corroboration of the
circumstances of destitution here referred to is there to be found on record.
end of this month. Though the Irish were put on the same
footing with Great Brittain as to trade, and having 40,000
men raised as Volunteers, and making further demands on
Government, threatens a civil war with them, unless timeously
adjusted. In our passage south, had foggy weather most
of the way, for 6 days, and when opposite to Stonehaven
or thereby, we discovered a large ball of fire, which run
swiftly along the dark clouds in a straight line and gilded
the same like a gold colour till it spent itself and evanished,
which gilding still continued, even when these clouds formed
into a crooked figure. 'Tis also remarkable that one night
while employed in catechising work through the parish, and
being detained at Sumburgh till afternoon's tea was over,
and turning very dark, when I came to the most rugged piece
of the way, about an half mile from the manse, a sudden
light sprung up among the horse's feet, 1 which made me
look about to see if it proceeded from any lights in the
heavens, but finding none, and all the rest of the ground
dark around me, astonished me the more at such a kind dispensation
of Providence, to whom be the praise!
This year several strange phenomenons appeared. The
island of Formosa, about 30 leagues from China, was laid
under water by a sudden rising of sea billows, and continued
so for 8 hours, and nothing yet to be seen but the tops of
mountains, whereby 'tis said that 3 cities 20 villages and above
40,000 inhabitants perished.2
2dly. A new island near Iceland rose from the bottom
of the ocean, and some people from a Danish vessel went and
took possession of it in their King's name.3 It was covered
with marle having many crannies running through it filled
with pumice stone, supposed to be thrown out by the
1 Probably fire flashing from the horse's foot striking a stone.
2 There must be something of the mythical element in this incident as
recorded; but it is the case that in May 1782 an earthquake, attended with a
tremendous hurricane and swell of the sea, threatened for twelve hours
destruction in the island.
3 It was denominated Nyöe, or the New Island, but the more remarkable
feature connected with it was that before a year had passed the island for ever
disappeared. So says Henderson, writing in 1818.
different Volcanoes of the island, at the time it was first
3rd. A globe of fire, August 19th, was seen both at
London and Edinburgh, about 20 times larger in appearance
than the moon, travelling from the south, towards the North
East, and bursting suddenly from a dark cloud, having a
tail resembling that of a Comet, about an hundred yards
from the tops of the houses. Its immense size and prodigious
brightness terrified the spectators.
4th. Next day, 'tis said, a farmer travelling late from
Edinburgh, fell in company with a venerable old man, at the
back of Salisbury Craggs, who had long grey hairs and a
staff in his hand. The farmer asking him if he had seen
the meteor that flew over Edinburgh: Alas! replied he,
shaking his head, his eyes sparkling with fire and a radiance
glowing from his countenance, 'That ball of fire has passed
over more cities and countries than this, and people knew not
the danger; and more signs, and strange presages and revolutions
would follow, and awful thunders, swellings etc. would
swallow up whole islands mid cities'; and then, stretching out
his right hand toward Edinburgh, said, 'none was more ripe
for destruction, and that for contempt of Gospel light, which
soon would be removed, and they would be abandoned to whoredoms
and all manner of wickedness. Let the guilty tremble,
for their destructions draws nigh, but let the chosen watch and
pray that they may escape these judgments,' and then suddenly
evanished, with a sharp noise, resembling that of a whip
struck in the air. Whereupon the farmer fell into a trance,
and sleeped on the grass all night, when he saw several awful
prodigies, as of inundations, and cities confused and destroyed,
as Sodom etc.1
In Dec. a sloop arrived with 350 Bolls more for the
1 There does not appear to be any very satisfactory contemporary confirmation
of this apparition, which is somewhat suggestive of the Wandering Jew of
mediæval story. It also reminds one of the Gibbites, a sect of worthies who, in
the year 1681, withdrew to a safe and convenient distance on the Pentland Hills
to view the 'bloody sinful city Edinburgh' burnt with brimstone from heaven,
as they expected.
countrey at 26 pence per lispd., which serves to keep prices
low for benefit of the poor, as the crop was bad, and many
straitened for corn and fother; yet weather fresh mostly till
now that frost and snow cover the ground.
Jan. This year began with a strong blow of easterly
wind, which set people in a great stir for preserving their
houses and boats, but, alas, discovered little concern or anxiety
for the salvation of their souls. O! that men were wise,
that they understood this, and might constantly remember
their latter end, with an eye to a future reckoning, that
precious time, talents, and the season of grace might be
improved to better purpose.
Feb. 23rd. This day I enter on my 73rd year; and O!
to be helped by divine grace so to number the remaining
days of my pilgrimage as to fill them up with duty, and to
have the lamp of my heart well trimmed and burning with
love to Christ Jesus, and that I may [be] ready at his call,
having a desire to depart and be for ever with the Lord.
For 4 Sabbaths past I have been keeped at home from the
North Kirk through frost and deep snow, which speaks aloud
to improve the season while it lasts. But though people
and beasts are greatly straitened for want of food, yet alas!
the generality are so fearfully blinded and hardened that they
consider not the works of the Lord etc. and continue stupid
and senseless under word and rod. May the Lord awaken
their drowsy souls in mercy.
In April several ships arrived with meal etc. for supply of
the countrey, but as 'tis upwards of a crown per lispd. and
the people mostly want money to purchase, will prove small
relief to them; and if it pleased the Lord to open the
mouth of the sea would be more beneficial. The world is
mostly in peace at present, which is seldom the case. But
our Government [is] in a fluctuating condition, the Ministry
often changed; all striving for posts and pensions, and who
shall be uppermost, but never think of the reckoning hereafter.
They pretend Patriotism when only acted from selfish
principles and motives. Though my eldest daughter got
25£ Ster. at Edin. when she came to meet with me, having
two of her children with her for relief in her present straits,
whereof she was forewarned, and now found to sad experience,
yet [I] had letters lately signifying their family was in danger
of perishing for want, if not seasonably supplied. Whereupon
I ordered 60£ Ster. more as her portion by her mother,
or, in lieu of that, to give them £15 Ster. per annum for 5
years to come for family support. They have a boy and girl
dead and two boys alive.
In May the Lord was pleased to send refreshing rains
and dews, which made the grass and corn spring; and proved
a great mean of preserving beasts' lives, many whereof, not
only cattle but sheep and horses, died for lack of fodder. Sir
Thomas Dundas sent 300 bolls meal for supply of his tennants.1
In June such numbers came to the Manse crying they
were starving, and many widows etc. had young children at
home in like condtion; and when my wife told me she was
mostly out of meal for their supply, I commissioned for 4
lispds. meal from Lerwick at 5s. 8d. ster. to give them, yet are
not satisfied with meat and drink, and a little meal, unless they
get money also; but no concern for food that does not perish.
The dews and rain make corn and grass to grow, but
little product as yet from the sea, which keeps the poor in
great straits, and most families are such. O! that a failure of
the streams might prove a mean to lead them to the fountain
of all mercies for soul and body.
In July two vessels of 80 tuns burden was sent from
London valued at 1600£ ster. with 500 quarters of Bear and
40 tuns of biscuit for supply of the poor tennants gratis by
order of Government in consequence of an application made
to Parliament by the Commissioners of Supply; at same time
a proclamation from the King for observing the 26th of said
1 Sir Thomas Dundas of Kerse, second Baronet, who in 1794 was raised to
the peerage as Lord Dundas. His son Lawrence, second Baron, was created
Earl of Zetland in 1838. The family since 1766 have possessed what remains of
the ancient earldom of Orkney and lordship of Shetland.
month, as a day of thanksgiving for the peace after 7 years
destructive war with France, Spain, Holland, and the revolted
provinces of America. Soli Deo Gloria. And O! what mercy
in granting also a set of fine warm weather, both for sea and
land, after such threatening aspects. O! that men would praise
the Lord for his undeserved mercy and goodness to ungrateful
August 24th. I was informed a whale about 40 feet long
came into Gulberwick in the parish of Lerwick.
During the month of September, very little corn was
shorn, the people in straits; — had some potatoes — little meat
in the oats; but in the beginning of October it pleased the
Lord to send several weeks of fine warm weather, which both
filled and ripened the corns, and though threatened in the
end with frost and snow, yet soon broke up, and a kind Providence
gave some fair days for cutting down most of the crop.
In Dec. victual came to the countrey, whereof there will
be great need for supply, and much more in other parishes
than in this, where it is tolerably good. Accounts came at
same time of a war likely to break out betwixt the German
Emperor and the Dutch, who stopped one of his ships from
passing down the Scheld to the sea from Antwerp, intending,
('tis said) thereby to trade with the E. Indies, whereof the
Dutch were jealous, as ruining to their trade there etc.
Do. A ship from Hull in England brought in plenty
of Bread and Potatoes etc. and vessels from Leith, who sold
potatoes at 7d. per lispd. O! that men would praise the
Lord for his undeserved goodness.
Frost and snow came suddenly on, whereby I was detained
two Sabbaths successively from the north Parish, and when the
same broke up, I got through with difficulty, and preached the
3rd Sabbath. O what cold and hunger the horses and sheep
suffer for the sins of men! The whole world groans under the
curse still — waiting for the adoption, e'en the manifestation of
the sons of God, at the sound of the last trumpet, when all
will be restored to their original rectitude and purity, and
death, with the curse, cast into hellfire.
Frost and snow came suddenly on again in the end of
December, a bright star appeared, about the bigness of Jupiter,
in the southwest, having sprays of light issuing therefrom, like
an hairy comet; and another lesser about the bigness of Venus,
having the same appearance of a hairy Comet, was seen some
months before, and now appeared in the south, culminating
above the foresaid star, and not far from it.1
In Feb. the foresaid stars mounted high, and in so much
that the lesser appeared no bigger than one of the fix'd stars
and soon evanished.
Item. A vessel arrived from the south, with 100 bolls meal
for supply of the poor, and more is expected, to be distributed
by the clergy. The same was sent by charitable people in
York, Newcastle, Hull, Bristol, Leeds, Wigan etc. in England;
which so ashamed the people in Scotland that severals at
Edinr. etc. determined to send supplies also. In April a vessel
came from Newcastle with Barley and 100 bolls meal. 192
lispds. Barley was allotted for this ministry. Another ship
with meal is expected from Frazersburgh for relief of the poor
families etc. and is now arrived with 500 bolls meal and 200
bolls Bear. Here may be seen how mercy is mixed with judgment,
in sending such large supplies to the poor wicked
wretches of this country, though few see anything of the
Divine Hand in it, and little sense of gratitude either to God
or man.
In the month of August, a large hairy Comet appeared in
the East. Nothing remarkable, for some months past, of
publick transactions.
In Sept. the corns keep green by rains, but seem to fill the
better thereby. The 3rd week of this month began harvest,
but ended not until the first week of November mostly; and
then when some hill towns2 had a good deal corns on the
ground to shear, a great storm of snow lighted on, which over1
The astronomical records of the period are confirmatory, generally, of the
appearances noted from time to time by Mill.
2 Hill towns: i.e. túns (farms, or cultivated townships) in exposed or hill
spread the same, whereby much was lost, and I was, through
the badness of weather, keeped two Sabbaths from my nearest
Kirk; and through excessive rains, most of the corns lay
unskrewed.1 Yet O! how stupid and senseless are the generality
under these judgments. A French man called Lunardi
fled over the Firth of Forth in a Balloon, and lighted in Ceres
parish, not far from Cupar in Fife; and O! how much are the
thoughtless multitude set on these and like foolish vanities to
the neglect of the one thing needful. Afterwards, 'tis said,
when soaring upwards in the foresaid machine, he was driven
by the wind down the Firth of Forth, and tumbled down into
the sea near the little Isle of May, where he had perished had
not a boat been near who saved him and his machine.2
Jan. A large Danish East India ship, bound for Tranquebar,
was wrecked on Helleness point,3 a ridge of rocks.
38 were suddenly drowned, among whom was the Governor of
said fort; the captain and 2 women, and only 13 common
men saved. A large quantity of money and merchants' goods
etc. lost, and a man and woman in Cunningsburgh lost while
grasping at the wrecks. Though they discovered land before
day, yet were so infatuated as not to attempt getting off
till a little before she struck, and then were so mad and
sottish as to get themselves drunk and bind themselves with
ropes to the windlass etc.; hence the Governor's body appearing
erect above the water, were obliged to cutt the same by the
leggs before they could get it off for Burial.
1 Unskrewed: not put up in ricks or stacks.
2 The ascents of Lunardi, quite a novel spectacle at the time, caused great
excitement in Edinburgh. The first took place on 5th October 1785, from the
grounds of George Heriot's Hospital, in view of, as it was calculated, 80,000
spectators, all business in the city being suspended. The excursion, over about
forty miles of sea and ten of land, occupied about an hour and a half. He came
dangerously near to the sea at Inchkeith, was carried across to North Berwick,
and then backwards and northwards to Fife, descending a mile east from the
village of Ceres, where he was received with the acclamations of a multitude.
3 Helleness, on the east side of the parish of Cunningsburgh.
I was keeped four Sabbaths from North Parish by reason of
very stormy weather etc. and two Sabbaths more after.
Feb. 23rd. That day I'm arrived to the 74th year of my
age. O! that I may always be in a posture of readiness to
depart hence, when my dear Lord and Master shall call me
home to himself etc.
Feb. 19. 'Tis said that the King of Sweden being at Naples,
and expressing a desire to see the experiment of an air Balloon,
the Court then ordered an immense globe of 150 feet diameter
and 200 high, gilt and bearing on the top an enormous crown
sparkling with imitated precious stones of various colours,
having a building annex'd of beautiful architecture of the
Dorick order, made of pumice stone, and surrounded by a
terrace or gallery, railed in with orange and lemon trees
and having an Orchestra of 8 capital Performers in musick,
which rising at noon in a perpendicular ascent disappeared
27 minutes after for 2 hours, and 'twixt 3 and 4 afternoon
lighted down a mile distance from the place of ascent,
12 Italian miles high, having likewise 7 persons of rank, nobles
and gentlemen, besides two more to guide the machine by its
inflammable air with which it was filled etc.
Frederick 2nd, King of Prussia, died. Born 1712, aged 74
— my age the same.
Said month, had a letter from Peterhead giving accounts
that George Tocher died at New Bythe the 29th of December
and had left my eldest daughter Nell a poor destitute widow,
with a son seven years old called John — the other two sons
and a daughter, all younger, were dead some time before.
A loud call to die daily to sin etc. and make ready for departing
In March found the victual much fallen in price through a
good crop through Brittain. But the Kingdom groaning
under heavy taxes and 300 millions of debt, an exorbitant sum,
the interest whereof might support a war. Yet little sense of
Divine judgment are found among any rank.
In May, we had great rains, followed with a great drought
the most of June. But towards the end of said month a kind
Providence sent a plenteous rain again to water the parched
ground. O! that men would praise the Lord for rich mercies
to the unworthy and unthankful race of mankind.
In the beginning of July, the rains continued, and 1st of
August, 15 sail of men of war were on this coast, supposed to
be French, but 'tis said Russians exercising their men. They
asked some people that went to them if they were not afraid.
They answered, as it was in time of peace, and as they were
poor fishermen, they feared no harm. As they were supposed
to be on some secret plot upon our settlements in the East
Indies, our Statesmen were alarmed, and sent out a squadron
in pursuit of them. In said moneth our hay came short of the
usual quantity, by reason of the drought in May, and much
spoiled by the rain when cutt down; and great mercy it is not
worse; for had not the Lord in mercy sent a fine dry breeze of
wind in the end of September, and recovered it when in great
danger of being quite rotten and lost, whereby horses etc. were
in danger of being lost for want of it. The day it was brought
in threatened rain, yet the same was wonderfully restrained till
all was over, and then broke out. Praise to the kind author
of all mercies, but through carelessness of servants afterwards,
took heat and were oblidg'd to pull the stack down and
created a deal of trouble.
October 19th. The last of the corns was cutt down here.
These 5 years past Providence has been contending with the
countrey by bad seasons and poor crops, yet poor blind sinners
are generally more hardened than reformed, while iniquity
abounds as much if not more than ever.
In Dec. a sloop from Glasgow going for Irland was driven
on Fair Isle by a strong west wind. A pilot from thence
brought them for Quendal Bay, but could not get in. They
ankord without [outside of] a Holm. The crew left the vessel;
she was driven thence on Foula, and wrecked there.
Jan. A sloop belonging to Lerwick coming from Leith
was overset nigh this countrey; all the men washed overboard,
a boy remained. Amazing Providence! the vessel recovered,
and a sea cast two men alive upon the deck, and two more were
drowned. They were driven to Bergen in Norway, and returned
safe to Lerwick in February 4. English sailors came
passengers, who belonged to a Greenland ship which had been
frozen up at Greenland to the month of December. When the
ice broke up, they escaped and came to Norway, and after
some months, had nothing to live on, 'tis said, but Whale
blubber, while another Danish vessel in the same condemnation
lost most of their men by said food.
The winter has been so mild, and so little frost and snow,
that the spring,1 in the ground was as forward in March as
it used to be in May; and O! what mercy it was, since otherwise
the horses would have been in danger of losing [i.e. being
lost], through the badness of the hay.
In April, were 30 Greenland ships in Bressay Sound, and a
man of war to keep these rough people in aw and order, least
when drunk and mad with gin they should set the town of
Lerwick on fire.
In June I went to attend the Presbytery in Lerwick with a
firm resolution to extract the Decreet of Presbtry for a new
Church at Dunrossness, and send south for obtaining and
executing a charge of Horning against my Heritors, but was
unwilling to proceed to extremities; and therefore Mr. Scott,2
our Sheriff, was prevailed on to accompany me to Sumburgh
my principal heritor, who had most of his estate in the parish;
whereby he was, by a kind Providence, who has the hearts
of all men, and turns them as the rivers of water, nay, even the
worst of men, as he pleases; and at last I was agreeably surprised
to find him ready to comply with all just and reasonable
measures, beyond expectation, after he had long refused, and
had shifted this and other matters, by granting 10£ ster. to
give the undertaker to begin the work, and his written obligation
to grant whatever sums were demanded for carrying on
and completing the work of building a new Church according
to his proportion, and also to pay 7£ Scots yearly for
a Pund mortified to 4 poor widows, and pay in all arrears
1 i.e. growth.
2 Walter Scott of Scotshall, then owner of a small estate in Dunrossness.
due.1 Our accounts were also settled, and the ballance of Stipend
due pay'd down. At the same time got a Charter from the
Chancery on a house in Lerwick for which I had granted 40£
ster. and got all the right on the same in possession; when one
Heddel, a Custom House officer, had in a subtle fraudulent
manner, seized on the house on a pretended right from the heir,
and thereby supposed he would cutt off my claim, and deprive
me of all, though my design was to grant the benefit of this
and my father's houses there for behoof of two poor nieces that
had nothing and would do little for their own support, and
that during their whole lives. Soli Deo Gloria. About 80 of
the Dutch fleet, with a convoyer came in, an agreeable sight to
the people of this countrey. The white fishers come into
Quendal Bay in the months of April and May; the people
traffick with them. They brought gin, and sold at an easy
rate,2 and we have the prospect of getting house necessaries in
like manner by commission, which was risen very high, and were
for most part cheated by imposing rogues when brought from
the Mercat. The corns, 'tis said, looked poorly through the
countrey, and the Lord seems to continue his controversy
with this unclean land. A deep sleep seems to have fallen
on this generation. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper
was intimated the beginning of July to be given at the
usual time, last Sabbath of August. O! for the down--
pouring of His Spirit etc. The Church of Dunrossness being
in a ruinous condition, was oblidged to give the Sacrament
at Sandwick.
The General Assembly in 1786 having proposed a new form
of process before Church Judicatories, and sent to the several
Presbyteries to know their sentiments of it, I made my remarks
on three articles, vizt. — 1mo That Kirk Sessions shall give a
written warrant to their officer and two witnesses to every
delinquent, with the executing thereof also in write; which
1 The 'Pund of the Brecks,' adjacent to Voe in Dunrossness, mortified by
the widow of the Rev. James Forbes, A. M., minister of the parish from 1662 to
1682. See before, anno 1756.
2 Buying gin from Dutchmen — with apparent approval of the minister.
Elsewhere heavy anathemas are found against the demoralising effects of
was a piece not only of needless trouble but a charge the Poor's
funds could not bear. 2do. — That ante-nuptial fornicators
should be dismissed with a rebuke before the Kirk Session; was
partial dealing, seeing the crime was the same as in ordinary
fornicators, and attended with this aggravation that, instead
of seeking God's blessing upon the ordinance of marriage
they had in view, they rushed together like brute beasts,
and I had more charity for young people that had no such
prospect. 3tio. That when a man was charged by a woman
with Criminal Conversation, that his denial should be sufficient,
without purging himself of the guilt by oath — all which
seemed very senseless and absurd. I wrote our Procurator
accordingly to lay these reasons before last Assembly, and
was glade to understand by a member thereof that the new
form was rejected, as they reckoned the old form of process
much preferable.
Sad experience teaches how much the Ministers of the
Church of Scotland are degenerate and fallen from the strictness
of former times, owing mostly to worldly minded men creeping
in yearly by forced settlements; for which reason, in the year
1785, a Society at Edinburgh made an attempt to get the
Patronage Act rescinded, and said year sent me over here a
bundle of printed papers with proposal and Pamphlets written
on the subject, in order to scatter the same among our clergy
and gentry, for obtaining their Concurrence; but found they
were so immersed in the world and the flesh that, Gallio like,
they cared for none of these things. However I wrote out
reasons and arguments at full length showing the absurdity of
obtruding men on Parishes, that it was not only contrary to
Christian liberty, but of dangerous consequence to the souls
of all concerned; and likewise the advantages attending a
contrary course; which the whole members of our Kirk
Session approved of, and it was signed and sent as from
them. But when it came before the General Assembly the
Patrons had got such a majority of friends there that the
design was dropped.
Here the clergy are generally so lax in principle and practice
that when I spoke of privy Censures they opposed the
same. They have laid aside examinations of their youth and
Communicants, and admit scandalous persons to Sacraments,
and joined with rogues against me, not only in protecting an
erroneous member, one Finlayson, formerly mentioned, who
soon left the countrey, in expectation of a great legacy left by a
brother of his wife's, wherein he was disappointed, but having
procured a settlement in the Presbytery of Biggar of 50£ Ster.
per annum, was soon reduced to such straits, through luxery,
that he was oblidged to apply for collections to the support of
a numerous family of children. Nay, they joined also against
me in defence not only of a fornicator, but an incestuous person,
who were obstinate in this Parish.
'Tis said that many of our Greenland ships are lost among
the ice — 12 at least. 'Tis a wonder of mercy that so many of
these curs'd ruffians are preserved. 'Tis said in Holland the
people are split in two factions, one part for the Stadtholder,
and the other against him, which rose so high that from words
they came to blows, and several hundreds have perished in the
Aug. 26th. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was celebrated
at Sandwick. The auditory was crowded, yet the work
was decently carried on. I preached on Thursday and Saturday
on Isaiah 64 and 6, and on Sab. on Rev. 3rd and 20. Mr
Inches, minister at Nesting, preached Sunday afternoon —
1 Peter 1 and 3, on Christ's resurrection, and Munday John 5
and 22, on the General Judgment: 4 Libs. Ster. was collected
on Sabbath, and the whole amounted to more than usual, and
is the more surprising that the Parish is so much reduced by
failure of crops for 5 years past, whereby the number of the
poor on the lists have risen to an 100. However it pleased
God, who oft mixes mercy with judgment, to grant a good crop
this year, the best at least that we have had for 6 years past,
1 Political commotion in Holland. This ended in Belgium being overrun by
the French, when the Stadtholder, William V., and his family escaped to England,
in a fishing-boat, from Scheveningen. The Batavian Republic was then
proclaimed. It in turn fell when Louis Buonaparte was appointed king, in
1806. On the downfall of Napoleon the kingdom of the Netherlands was
formed, and it, in 1830, was again divided into the two kingdoms of Holland
and Belgium as now existing.
and all brought into the cornyard in safety about the middle
of October. 'Tis said the King of Prussia, who succeeded his
uncle, has garrisoned Rotterdam with 10,000 and laid siege
to Amsterdam with 50,000 men in favours of the Stadtholder,
his brother-in-law.
Jan. An Hundred years ago, viz, in 1688, my Mother was
born, and died 1772, aged 84. The foresaid year was remarkable
also for the Revolution of Government in Great Brittain,
and proved so great a blessing to the nation; as the year 1588
was likewise, by providential blasting of the Spanish Armada.
The Sheriff this month sent me a paper, called a Memorial,
signed by himself, three of my principal Heritors, with those
of Lerwick and Bressay, for joining Bressay to Lerwick as one
parish, and, taking part of Lerwick and Cunningsburgh from
Sandwick Parish, to make another parish with Burray and
Wharff etc. pretending the promoting of piety thereby, and
desiring me to sign the same paper. But I was so far from
putting my name to such a scheme as appeared to be calculated
for the worldly ease and advantage of the present incumbents
of Bressay and Lerwick, and selfish designs in the Lairds:
nay, being fully persuaded it would rather prove detrimental
to the interests of religion and Christian Knowledge, I assured
them I would oppose the design to the utmost of [my] power.1
They proposed, at same time, to have only one church to serve
for this Parish and Sandwick, and the same to be built at
Troswick. This design was baffled.
In Jan. I had accounts from Edinburgh of a great mortality
there; that the death of Dundas of Arniston, President of
the Court of Session, had made such a vacance that could
hardly be supplied with such a well qualified judge.
My dear wife has continued in a valetudinary state for
1 This scheme had at any rate the merit of geographical propinquity to
commend it. The union of the islands of Bressay and Burra on the east and
west sides of the country, with Quarff on the mainland, intervening, has always
proved an inconvenient ministry, and chapels of ease at Burra and Quarff
(quoad sacra) became ultimately indispensable.
upwards of six months past, occasioned by a severe cold
which brought down the Uvula or Pape so call'd, and opened
the joinings of the head, which brought on at same time a
great deafness, which most of all discouraged her, and made
her weep bitterly, when she could not hear prayers and reading,
which grieved me greatly and in tender sympathy made me
extend my voice to such degree in both respects that I was
afraid it would render me incapable of publick service. All
remedies that could be procured have been tried. We desire
patiently to submitt, and wait the Lord's good time for perfecting
her recovery, and that the troubles of the body may
work for promoting the spiritual good and benefit of the
soul. She complained also of stitches at her breast, and a
sciatica pain in her thigh. But blessed be His great name
who soon removed all these grievances, though the body is
still weak.
In March we had accounts that a Dutch Greenlander
had wrecked on a rock at some distance from Whalsey, and
several men being discovered by a glass from said rock, the
Captain and mate with 5 more were saved by a boat sent off
to them. The rest of the crew, about 50, perished before.
In April, we had accounts that the German Emperor and
Katherine Zarina of Russia were at war with the Turks, and
that the Imperialists had laid siege to Belgrade, a garrison'd
town on the frontier of Turkey in Europe. In this parish two
young men were lost in bad weather, and the other fishing
boats with difficulty got ashore, and three young men in
Irland1 were lost in one boat by rashness.
In May, Great Brittain entered a strict alliance with
Holland for mutual defence; Holland to furnish six thousand
troops and 12 men of War, and Great Brittain nigh double,
when either is attacked by enemies, and a like alliance with
the Prussians. 'Tis said the Russians had killed 20,000 Tartars
who were employed by the G. Turk.
May 18. My dear wife was enabled to ride to Church.
Soli Deo Gloria.
1 Irland: i.e. Eyrrland, in Dunrossness.
Do. [May]. 'Tis said the Governours and Directors of the
British Fisheries have purchased about 4000 acres of land in
the Isle of Mull at Tobermory, and at Ullapool nigh Loch
Broom in West of Ross-shire, for establishing a fishery in these
places, though 130 miles distant from each other, and erecting
work houses for materials necessary to carry on the same; with
Inns for the accomodation of Coopers and tradesmen needful
etc. which, by report of people, if they succeed in the design,
may raise two considerable towns.1
In July, 'tis said the King of Sweden wanted to have the
province of Livonia restored to him by the Zarina of Russia,
the refusal of which demand had made a rupture, which
brought on a naval engagement in the Baltick Sea, and that
the Swedes had beaten the Russian fleet. But in the Black
Sea the Russians beat the Turks in a naval engagement.
In Septr. Octr. etc. we had fine weather, and the best crop
we have had for 7 years past. But the people were
publickly warned to beware of abusing it to God's dishonour,
as they had done in 1781, by fidling and Ranting, gluttony,
Drunkeness, and all unclean abominations, the usual concomitants
thereof, and thereby provoke a just and holy God to send
sore judgements on the land, by famine and a plague, to sweep
such obstinate vermin off the earth into the pit of destruction.
The General Assembly having appointed a day of thanksgiving
on the 5th of Novr. in memory of the Glorious Revolution
in 1688, after 28 years of most dreadful persecution under
Charles 2d and James 2nd and their abettors, a cursed malignant
crew as ever was anywhere, I took the occasion on said day,
from text Exodus 13 and 3, to put the Congregation also in
mind of the marvellous interposition of Providence in blasting
the Spanish Armada, which they called Invincible, and confident
to make a full conquest of our happy isle, and thereby reduce
the Kingdom again to Popery, Arbitrary Power and Slavery;
and also of the gunpowder plot which [was] laid by Jesuit
villains for the same mischievous end, and to thank a good
1 These schemes of the British Fisheries Society were only partially successful.
Ullapool, in particular, is a decayed place.
God, also, for the good crop etc., all which seems to make
little impression on the generality, who are as obstinately
bent on their evil courses as ever.
Beef is risen so high by sending vast quantities off the
countrey, and when a little before harvest I knew of no marts,1
a kind Providence furnisheed [me] with two of my own, and
sent a fat cow to the door, which cost 3 Libs Sterling. Soli
Deo Gloria.
Jan. Every year produces remarkable changes — one race
of creatures swept off the stage by the rapid flux of time,
and others coming on. Lord teach us so to number days,
months, and years as to apply our hearts to Heavenly
Wisdom, and make ready for an unchangeable state. We
had an account of the King's death, more regreted by all
ranks and professions than any King of G. Brittain before
him, though his royal progenitors were all noted for good
princes. But this report was false, and we had sure accounts
in March of his being restored by a gracious God to health
of body, and soundness of mind. Said month I was greatly
surprised when two Nottar Publicks came to the Manse and
sheaved me an extract from the Sheriff court at Edinburgh
that Robt. Thompson, my Precentor, was imprisoned in the
Tolbooth there for forging a latter Will in favours of his wife
and children by one James Millar, who died at their house at
Sumburgh, after he had been two years there, and had acted
as a friend by paying Tack duty for them, and taking as good
care of their affairs as if done for himself, which made all the
Parish believe that his true name was Willm Sinclair, real
brother to Ann Sinclair his wife, and that he had changed his
name because of a harsh master of a ship he had been bound
as an apprentice to when a boy (as Robt Thompson assured
me) which made him run from him in America, and, finding
a ship bound for Glasgow, had gone there, where he continued
till he came in a fishing vessel which was wrecked in this countrey.
As none could imagine that they would continue such a
1 Marts: fattened cows or oxen for winter provision (killed and salted).
story designedly, and thereby run the risk of forfeiting life,
reputation, the loss of the soul, and ruin his poor family of
six small children and two aged parents, he got a Testimonial
according to the above report, in order to recover the legacy
left them. But upon his landing at Leith he was seized and
imprisoned at the instance of one Daniel Millar, the true
brother of the foresaid James Millar, as appeared from
sufficient documents produced from Kilmarnock, where they
were both born. Therefore though by letter he made solemn
protestations to me and daring appeals to Heaven of his
innocency, and his wife brought several servants to prove that
James Millar foresaid had called her his sister upon his
death-bed, I was determined to have no further concern in
the matter, and set them all off Re infecta.1 So true is what
the Prophet Jerem. says, that the heart is deceitful and desperately
wicked when men are prompted to go such length
through worldly straits and avarice etc. The North Parish
was examined said month.
In April a printed Proclamation came to hand for observing
the 23rd of said month as a day of thanksgiving for restoration
of the King's health. But as the day was elapsed before
the Publication could be made from the Pulpits of both Parishes
I was oblidged to defer the thanksgiving day to May 13th
ensuing. In spring we had fine weather for labouring the ground
— praise to the Kind Author. Before I set about Examination
work in the north Parish, I was much surprised to find that
Robt Hunter of Lunna had prevailed with John Bruce of
Simbester and Andrew Grierson of Quendal, in March last,
to patch up the old Ness Kirk, after same had been twice
condemned, and another spot of ground agreed upon having
a better foundation, and more central for the Parishioners,
notwithstanding a Presbyterial Decreet had passed, and all
the heritors had bound themselves upon stamped paper to pay
1 This is one of the very rare cases of crime from the district. The story of a
mysterious stranger, Millar, at Sumburgh would almost lead to the surmise that
his case, doubtless known at the time to Walter Scott, the young advocate at
Edinburgh, might have suggested to the subsequent 'Great Unknown' the
character of the gloomy and mysterious Basil Mertoun of The Pirate, who
likewise came to reside at ('Jarlshof') Sumburgh.
in to the undertaker1 their respective proportions of the sum
of 300£ Ster. and the work to be set about after Whitsunday
1789; and all under pretence that Sumburgh having died in
the end of 1788 under a burden of debt, so much money
would bear hard upon the heir. But I was of the mind
that it was much more eligible in all respects, even for their
worldly interests, to build the new Church as designed, than
to risk a new roof and windows upon an insufficient and
slippery foundation. They agreed to this measure at last
for the new church.
The Packet comes now here from Aberdeen, which is a
loss both to Government as well as the countrey and can't
hold out long.
It is affirmed that one Dr. Katterfelts, who has travelled
through Great Brittain, and exhibits the solar system in
miniature by a solar microscope, has obtained a gold medal
from the Board of Admirality worth 20 guineas for making
a piece of iron or steel or compass needle point to the east
and west poles only, having all the powrs of the Loadstone,
and, being put on the centre of a watch glass, answers the
same purpose as the needle; and that, by means of three
letters wrote to the Queen and Prince of Wales respecting
the King's distemper, whereby his health was restored, he
expects to have a sallary settled on him, and for various useful
discoveries. The convicts are, now, in great numbers, sent
from Great Brittain to New Holland, called by us New Wales,
an island reckoned as large as all Europe, to a place called
Botany Bay; but as they could not find plenty of good water
there, they removed about a dozen miles thence to a place
called Jackson's Bay, where they get excellent water in abundance,
and a better and more convenient place for settling,
where they cleared the ground, and sowed wheat, ry, and
Barley, which thrives well, but 'tis said that peas and beans
did not answer so well with the soil. They found a creature
there shaped like a hare, with short fore-legs, the hind legs
much longer, as big as a sheep, called Kangouras,2 and eats
like mutton. The inhabitants were naked savages of a copper
1 That is, the contractor. 2 Kangaroos.
colour, running through the woods, as in America, when it
was discovered. They have one Philips for their Governor,
and finding proper earth for making bricks, had built an
elegant house of the same for him, and have formed a city
of several streets, but their houses are little hutts, made of
wood branches etc. As the large cattle etc. they carried with
them died mostly by the way, they purpose now to have
their breed of horses from this countrey, and their cattle etc.
from Scotland and Wales, as more fitting and hardy, though
one would imagine that as the countrey lies in the East Indies,
'twixt 10 and 34 degrees latitude south, the climate would be
very favourable and warm there. 'Tis full of woods. New
Caledonia found by Cook is an Isle resembling Zealand in the
same ocean. The crop was got mostly in, the beginning of
October, and promises well.
In Decemr. we had accounts of the President of the Session's
death, Mr Millar of Glenlea,1 and that Islay Campbel2 had
succeeded; that the late President's son, Arniston,3 was placed
in his room as King's Advocate, and Mr Robert Blair4 as
Sollicitor in his room; that Ladhon, the Emperor's General,
has taken Belgrade, and thereby paved the way to besiege
Constantinople; that the Austrian Netherlands had raised
40,000 men for slinking off the Austrian yoke they had so
long groaned under; that the Swedes and Russians were still
at war, which threatened to involve the other Potentates of
Europe, and that all France was in a flame; that they had
erected an Assembly of the States, so called, by whom the King,
queen, and all the royal family were in a manner imprisoned
and confined to the Palace, having the military on their side;
that they had divided France into 80 Provinces or Shires,
and proposed to have 700 members for an House of Commons,
aiming thereby to have the same constitution, form of
Government, Laws, and Priviledges as in Great Brittain, and
1 Sir Thomas Miller of Barskimming and Glenlee; died Sept. 27, 1789.
2 Afterwards Sir Ilay Campbell of Succoth, Bart.
3 Robert Dundas of Arniston. Was only thirty-one years of age when at this
time appointed Lord Advocate.
4 Robert Blair of Avontoun, afterwards Lord President.
that the King should have only the executive part of the
Government. The extreme fervour among the people, through
a great scarcity of bread, seems to have given rise to this
revolution etc. 'Tis likewise said that the American states had
established Popery among them by setting up one Carlton,1
as Bishop of Baltimore in Maryland and chief of all the other
Bishops, Priests etc.
On the first day of the New Year, N. S. a very strange
Providence occurred when the whole roof [of] my stable fell
down suddenly upon 7 of my horses, 2 about 11 of the clock at
night, which alarmed the people round about, so that they
came quickly to the rescue of the horses, otherwise they had
been all stifled, or crushed to death; and, what is most remarkable,
they were not the worse, though 'tis said one was found
lying above another.
Jan. The face of affairs in Europe bears a gloomy aspect.
The Turk continues obstinate, and won't yield to terms of
peace with Germans or Russians. The French General Assembly
have obtained those points which they call the Bulwarks of
the State, viz. the free election of members for Parliament,
Trials by Jury, and Liberty of the Press. They have collected
upwards of 15,764£ ster. to erect a new fabrick for the College
at Edinr.3 qroff they had great need, to which the Earl of
1 This was John Carroll, cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, who was
possessed of large estates and influence in Maryland, on behalf of which State he
signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. John Carroll was consecrated
the first Bishop of Baltimore in 1790, and in 1808 was made Archbishop with
four episcopal sees as suffragans. The granddaughters of Charles became
respectively the Marchioness of Wellesley, the Duchess of Leeds, and Lady
2 It will be understood that this stud of 'horses' consisted only of Shetland
3 The foundation-stone of the new University buildings, South Bridge, was
laid with great ceremony on Nov. 16, 1789, by Lord Napier, Grand Master
Mason of Scotland, lineal descendant of Napier of Merchiston, the inventor of
Logarithms. Orcadians and Shetlanders will not readily forget the important
part which Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney and Shetland, had in the original
foundation of the University more than two hundred years before this time. In
1558 he bequeathed to the city of Edinburgh 8000 merks for the purpose.
Hopton and Faculty of Advocates contributed 500 guineas
Flanders joined with Brabant have shaken off the imperial
yoke, and expect that the principality of Liege will unite with
them in one commonwealth.
The winter has been so green that vegetables of divers
kinds flourished, and the spring has prov'd very favorable.
But fish, butter etc. that had risen high, are now fallen low in
price. In May we had accounts that the Emperor Joseph of
Germany was dead, and succeeded by his brother the Duke
of Tuscany; that the Spaniards had taken severals of our men
of war, and merchant ships, which occasioned a hot press to
man our fleet. A million ster. was voted for charges, and a
squadron of 16 capital ships sent forth on a secret expedition,
for which they will probably pay, before they can have peace,
'tis said, 3½ millions ster. In June 2nd day, I was called upon
to see the foundation for a new Church marked out,1 which
Mr Grierson of Quendal was for postponing till next summer.
But the two principal heritors, Symbister and Sumburgh,
ordered the undertaker to go on with the work, though oft
hindered by frequent rains, for so it seemed good in the
Lord's sight.
In March last, one Mr Crighton came here from London,
and carried off a considerable quantity of oar of different
kinds, one whereof is found to be an excellent, large and rich
mine of Iron in Fetwel hill, and the other a copper mine near
Sand Lodge in Sandwick parish. Mr Crighton returned in
August for getting people to work the same, who carried off
a deal of the ore in October and put the same in a sloop
belonging to the Company, built of copper, and all went with
her to London, whence they designed to return in the Spring,
with more hands for working these mines. Mr Crighton forsaid
gives accounts of a lead mine in Whalsey and of a coal mine
in Unst, and another of the same kind in Fetlar isles.2
1 The present parish church, on the 'ground' of Brew.
2 Iron mine at Fitfell Head (Fitfuglahöfdi, Sea-fowl Head). This mineral
prospecting, started by an Englishman, Crighton, a century ago, was resumed
in the same quarter about twenty years since, but, not proving remunerative, the
The crop was mostly got [in] in October, and is better
filled than was expected, considering the rainy season; and my
hay was in great danger of being lost through perverseness
of the Grieve's people, who would not leave shearing when
the neighbours got in their hay, whereby mine remained in
the fields, when others had got in their corns; and had not a
Kind Providence sent two days, very seasonably, of dry weather,
the whole was in danger of being irrecoverably lost, yet the
third part at least is thought to have been lost by Beastly
wind and rain, through neglect; and what was remarkable, that
though the morning threatened rain, it was restrained, till the
remaining hay was got in, safe and in good plight, at last.
In September I got a printed letter, with a great number
of queries to be answered, respecting this parish, which I
effected in a few weeks, tending not only to give a particular
view of what was most remarkable in the parish, but a general
idea of the whole countrey, and was sent in October to Sir
John Sinclair of Ulbster.1
In October I had a printed pamphlet sent me drawn up by
a Committee of the Highland Society, for Improvement of
British Wool, signifying that, in former times, English wool,
that was esteemed the best in the world, was of late so far
degenerate as to [cause the country to] pay 600,000£ ster.
annually for Spanish wool, and as the finest wool was now found
in the North and West Isles of Scotland, the Society foresaid
have laid down rules for bettering the breed of wool, and for
this end are to give premiums for so many of the breed who
have the finest wool, which are to be keept separately by
working was discontinued. Copper-mining near Sand Lodge, begun in the same
way in 1790, and discontinued, formed the rather chimerical basis of a joint-stock
speculation launched as the Sumburgh Mining Co., Limited, in 1879, which terminated
with disastrous results for those concerned in it, few of whom were
natives. Of lead in Whalsey, and coal in Fetlar and Unst, the Editor has no
knowledge; hut chromate of iron, discovered in 1817, has proved a valuable
product in the latter island.
1 Account of the Parish of Dunrossness. This valuable contribution to
topographical information appears in vol. vii. of the old Statistical Account
of Scotland, published by Sir John Sinclair in 1791-99, and reprinted in the
Appendix to the present volume.
themselves to prevent adulteration.1 About 20 or 30 ewes and
rams of fine wooled sheep are sent south for Islay, as a new
plantation, to Shawfield Campbell, the proprietor of said Isle.
Novr. 23rd. In the evening were frequent flashes of lightning
with claps of thunder. Soon after I had more than an
half year's newspapers sent from Edinr. representing the state
of Europe etc. as follows.2
Jan. This month was very stormy, and 'tis to be feared
may occasion manifold shipwrecks at sea.
After Feb. 24th I entered into my eightieth year. Some,
but few, attain to fourscore years, and they are said to be
but labour and sorry. But O! what a wonder of mercy it is
that I am still as capable to discharge all parts of my ministry
as ever — praise to His great name. May I be helped to
hold on, and be faithful in discharge of this important trust
e'en to the death. Amen.
The Gasettes of Novr. bears that Spain, after long offsets
and delays, had at last agreed to our terms. But as our navy
of 413 ships of war are keepd still in readiness, 'tis still uncertain
whether peace or war ensue. The Emperor of Germany
has made peace with the Turks, as Sweden has done with
Russia. France is still in an unsettled state, as also the
Austrian Netherlands.
The Emperor and Austrian Netherlands have agreed.
The King of France made his escape from Paris, though
a strong guard and watch was set on him by the General
Assembly, but was discovered and seized with his queen etc.
before he got out of his dominions; and being brought back
was imprisoned more straitly than before; nay, 'tis said, they
1 A pamphlet was issued this year by the Society, entitled 'Report of the
Committee of the Highland Society of Scotland on Shetland Wool, with an
Appendix containing papers drawn up by Sir John Sinclair and Dr. Anderson.'
Edin. 1790.
2 The author has forgotten, or been unable to overtake, his promised narrative
of European affairs, digested from his six months' supply of newspapers! The
text is immediately resumed with the entry of January 1791.
had deposed him altogether, and committed his son, of 8 or
10 years old, to such Tutors and Governors as would instruct
him in the principles of Government he should prosecute when
of age.
The Highland Society has procured sheep not only from
Spain but from Thibet in Africa [sic], Colchis in Asia, and
from the East Indies, for improvement of the breed.
John Sinclair sent me 5 different sorts of wool, a little of each
dressed. But our Zetland wool bears the vogue of all the
world for the finest wool, whereof I sent some pounds to Sir
John forsaid, as President of the Society. I got from him
the 1st volume of his History of Scotland.1
January. In the end of December 3 boats went to sea, in
a fine morning, where they used to fish for ling in summer; but
a sudden storm of wind and snow arising, they all perished,
whereby 8 heads of families and a boy were seen no more; yet
these awful judgements, like a nine days' wonder, are soon forgotten,
and the thoughtless multitude drives still on in their
career of Sin and folly — Nay, though no less than 8 or 9 fishing
boats were lost in the north part of the country, and about
50 heads of families thereby perished, in June last, while
employed in fishing. Some time after this disaster, Sir
Thomas Dundas, accompanied by the Duke of Gordon, arrived
in Bressay Sound, in quest of Mines, but met with a disappointment,
and after some men from the Anglesay Company had
wrought for copper in this Parish, and had carried off a
quantity of the oar, they found it would not answer the
Charges; and thus, after great expectations were raised, came
all to nothing; and such have been, and always will be, the
fate of those who set their hearts on this empty and perishing
1 Sir John's Statistical Account of Scotland is evidently here referred to.
Note. — The omission here of all reference to the new parish church, which
was completed this year (1791), is singular. From the Minutes of the Kirk--
session it appears that on July 11, 1790, the minister preached 'at a Tent
adjoining the Wall of the new Church building,' and on August 22 he conducted
the service 'within the Walls completed.'
world. Europe is in peace, but how long is uncertain. The
French Assembly have completed their code of laws, and their
king agreed and sworn to maintain their new constitution,
whether sincere or feigned is suspected and doubted. In
America they have made such quantities of sugar of the maple
tree, in the United States, that equals, 'tis said, nay, exceeds
the sugars made of the cane, etc.
Prince Frederick Duke of York is married to the King of
Prussia's eldest daughter, Frederica Charlotte etc.
Lord Cornwallis being sent to the East Indies with an army
to carry on war against Tippoo Saib, a formidable tyrant who
threatened not only to swallow up his neighbour princes, but
to ruin the possessions of the E. India Company upon that
Peninsula, adjoining the Mogul dominions that has the coast
of Malabar on the West, and the coast of Coromandal on the
East side, and brings to the Company above three millions
sterling per an. 'Tis said General Cornwallis had taken
severals of his strongest Forts, and was preparing to lay
siege to his great metropolis Seringapatam, where he expected
to obtain 20 millions sterling for compensating the charges of
the war.
Leopold, Emperor of Germany, died suddenly, 'tis supposed
by poison. He succeeded his brother Joseph not
long ago, and had threatened France with an invasion. He
has left a numerous family, and is succeeded by his eldest
son Francis.
The taxes are taken off from servant maids, carts etc. that
were burdensome on the lower classes of people.
There seems to be a general application to Parliament for
abolishing the cruel and barbarous Slave trade to Africa etc.
The victual is at 50 pence per lispd., which bears hard on
the poor. Providence has given a fine season for the labouring
in March and April, after the great fall of snow that lighted
suddenly on in the beginning of March and cutt off many sheep
and horses, and also put a stop to my Catechising work of the
Parish after it was begun.
Yet the summer proved better; nay, had here more favourable
clear and dry weather during the summer than in England,
and south part of Scotland, where they were trysted with
excessive rains lightnings and thunder, which did a deal of
damage to Gardens, cornfields etc. The crop here was likewise
better, and sooner cut down than there. Soli Deo Gloria.
When Lord Cornwallis was ready to take Seringapatam by
storm, it struck the tyrant Tippoo Saib with such terror that
he proposed such terms of peace as was accepted by Cornwallis
etc. viz. to give one half of his kingdom and 3 millions sterling
for expellees of war etc.
January. Some seditious pamphlets having been published,
particularly one mentioned as done by Pain,1 who fled to France,
and was enrolled a member of their General Assembly, whereby
the rabble in many places began to assemble and cry out, in
the language of France, for Liberty and Equality, as if oppressed
by exorbitant Taxes. The King issued a proclamation enjoyning
magistrates to search for the instigators of such mobs,
and bring them to condign punishment, whereupon manifold
addresses from cities and corporations followed, signifying their
firm adherence to the present Government, and readiness to
concur in suppressing all seditious writings and insurrections
etc. The French Assembly are carrying all before them.
They have deposed their King and General [La] Fayett for
corresponding with their enemies the Emperor, and King of
Prussia, with their emigrant princes; and confined the King
with his family in an old building at Paris called the Temple,
enclosing the same with a deep and broad ditch, and guard
to watch them narrowly etc. Their Generals Lukner and
Demourier have taken Mons etc. in the Austrian Neitherlands
and were threatning to lay siege to Brussels, and General
Montescue had broke into Savoy, for deposing the King of
Sardinia, and bringing his subjects to a like revolution. As
there seems to be a divine hand in these Revolutions, may
tend to the final destruction of Anti Christ, which the event
may declare. — Amen. — Even so come, Lord Jesus, and avenge
1 Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man; died
the blood of thy saints shed by the Beast1 and false Prophet
'Tis said the Pope sent an ambassador to our King for
defending him and Church against that impious people the
French, after finding that his usual weapons of anathemas,
Pardons, and plenary indulgencies to sin, were now ineffectual.
The Convention at Paris having found Louis the 16th guilty
of Treachery and Treason against the State, condemned him
to have his head struck off, which was accordingly done on
the 21st January current;2 and finding that Great Brittain
was arming for War, on account of their opening the Scheld
contrary to the most solemn treaties guaranteed by them and
other powers of Europe, and also had sent their emissaries
into Brittain for raising sedition among the people, they had
also the assurance to denounce war against us, and make an
attack upon Holland; but were defeated by the King of
Prussia, in conjunction with some of our troops commanded
by the Duke of York;3 and as all Germany are uniting against
them, and they are in great want of money, meal, cloaths, arms
and horses, 'tis hard to say what the event may prove.
Lord Mackartney4 is sent ambassador front the court of
Brittain to the Emperor of China, with a great retinue,
and presents of the most curious manufactures in arts and
sciences, on board the Lion man of war of 60 guns, and
another large ship belonging to the East India Company, for
obtaining some Isle or place, to settle a factory near that
part of the Countrey where the Tea grows, towards the
north of China, and thereby avoid the charges of carrying
the same so far southward by land to Canton. Interpreters
1 The destruction of the Papacy seems to have been the great central object
in relation to which all things were viewed, and to which all events were
regarded as tending. The welfare of nations appears, in comparison with this,
to have been almost of minor consideration.
2 Louis XVI. was adjudged to death on the 17th, and executed on the 21st,
January 1793, as here stated.
3 This campaign of the Duke of York was not a brilliant one, as is well
4 George, Earl Macartney. This mission was a highly interesting one; an
account of it was published by his secretary, Sir George Staunton.
and Artists are sent along to explain the nature of these
curious presents.
One Thomas Pain, Secretary to the Congress of America,
and who, by publications on Common Sense, and the Rights
of Man, had a chief hand in bringing about the revolutions
of Government in America and France, in favours of a
Commonwealth founded by representatives of the whole
nation, attempted the same in Brittain, but in vain. He was
forced to fly etc.
This 23rd day of Aprile 1793 concludes the 50th year
since my ordination as minister of this Parish.
The French Convention have denounced Demourier, their.
best General, a Traitor, and set a price on his head etc.
May 29th. The ground was covered with snow, and all
greens look blasted, in the morning.
July 11th. Brought1 sent out his bigg boat for me to
Fair Isle, where I spent two weeks, during which time I
examined the Charity School, and all the young people of
the isle, on the principles of religion — preached twice every
Sabbath day — ordained four elders — rebuked and dismissed
from discipline two delinquents, and distributed to the poor
the money collected on these two Lord's days. 9 children
were likewise baptised there.
The united army of Imperialists, Prussians, Hessians and
Hannoverians, joined with some 1000ds of British soldiers,
with the Duke of York at their head, attacked the French
and beat them from Mentz, Condé, Valencian etc. etc. strong
forts on the Rhine.
In Gasette May 20th Sir John Sinclair represented to
Parliament that in Great Brittain were 67 mills. of acres,
7 qoff were incapable of cultivation, 5 mills. only tilled for
grain, 25 mills. for grass and pasture, and 30 mills. remained,
which, being cultivated, might maintain 10 mills. of people,
besides 5 mills. of Black cattle, and nigh 30 mills. of sheep;
and wool etc. improving would bring 3 mills. money per an.,
for which end his Majesty being addressed to establish a
1 Stewart of Brough, an Orkneyman, then proprietor of the Fair Isle.
general Board of Agriculture, 15 Lords and as many gentlemen,
Scots and English, were appointed etc. The Duke of York
in Sept. laid siege to Dunkirk, but was repulsed with loss;
and 'tis said the Queen of France is beheaded.1
January. 'Tis said the French have recover'd Toulone Harbour,
and most of the conquered cities, Ostend, Valencienns
etc. in Austrian Flanders, and taken a vast number of prizes by
sea; but June 1st were soundly beaten by Admiral How, 2
in a sea engagement, when six of their principal ships of war
were taken, and two also sunk, and scarce anything left them
in the East or West Indies, except Guadaloupe. Now in
September they are endeavouring to retain also…
The Dutch seem to have totally neglected their fishing
vessels. The French Privateers captured and sunk several of
the herring vessels off this Isle, and destroyed, 'tis said, all
the Cod fishers on the coast of Iceland, and left them only
one or two ships crowded with men, that came to Bressay
Sound, where one of the Dutch frigates were anchor'd for
fear of the French. These French privateers captured also
some of our Greenland vessels on their return, and having put
16 men on board one of these to convey the ship to Norway,
and left only the mate, Bonsk Lyons (who was born in Lerwick)
with another man on board, he suddenly confined 8 of the
French, who were intoxicate with liquor, below deck, and drove
the other 8 men into a boat by the ship's side, with a whale
knife, and then cutt the rope and let them go, and brought
the ship into Bressay Sound. Another belonging to Whitby
in England being sent for Norway in like manner, having
only the mate, called Ramsay, the Captain's son with a boy,
left on board: — having prepared some soup for dinner, and the
foresaid Ramsay having put in a spoon to share in the entertainment,
which a proud Frenchman took in such bad part
that he threw some of the soup in his face, the British spirit
1 Marie Antoinette. She followed the King, her husband, to the scaffold,
on October 16, 1793, in the thirty-eighth year of her age.
2 Richard, Earl Howe. This was an important and decisive victory.
rose so high that he gave him a sudden blow on the head.
This exasperated the French, that while they got up to lay
violent hands on him, Ramsay ran speedily to a hatchet on the
deck, with which weapon, having killed two of the foremost,
he so wounded the rest, that, with the help of the boy, he
bound them with ropes, and keeped possession of the vessel
for two days till one of our frigates met with him, and
brought him and vessel safe to England. 'Tis said one of our
frigates fought a whole day two stout French Privateers off
the North Isles in Orkney, and made at last prizes of them
'Tis said Lord Mackartney has returned from his grand
embassy to China Re Infecta. That Tartar Emperor seems
to have been jealous of the settlement of foreigners in any
part of his dominions. 1
At June Presbytery, it was found that Sir Thomas Dundas
had neglected to present a minister to Unst within the time
limited by law, and that this right had devolved to the
Presbytery, who presented and settled Mr. Archibald Gray,
a young man, upon a popular call, and that unanimous of
Heritors, Elders, and heads of families, for which Sir Thos.
now Lord Dundas, has given the Presbytery a summons before
the Lords of Session, to render the settlement null and
void etc. 2
The French Convention have struck off the heads of
Danton, Robespiere, with all their adherents, called the
Jacobins, a bloody crew who had the chief hand in the deaths
of their King, and his sister, and the Queen etc.
In imitation of the French Convention, two Societies were
found out in Great Brittain, the one in London, called the
1 This a hereditary and traditional jealousy, still a powerful principle in the
policy of China.
2 The case came before theCourt on 15th May 1795, when their Lordships
disallowed the settlement by the Presbytery in virtue of their claim of jus
devolutum. Mr. Gray, afterwards D.D., accordingly retired, and John Nicolson,
A.M., the presentee of Lord Dundas, succeeded to the charge in 1796.
Returning north from a visit in Scotland, the vessel was seized by the French,
who carried him a prisoner to Bergen in Norway, whence he returned in 1799.
He died in 1821.
Corresponding Society, as connected in principle with another
in Edinr. called the British Convention. They had their
Committees of Secrecy, emergency etc. and a military department.
In their houses were found a fount of Types, also
Pikes and weapons of war. Two of them, Wat and Downie
were prosecuted by the King's Advocate, and are found guilty
by a jury already etc. 1
In October, a young woman called Marian Hendries
Daughter in Noss was found to have been guilty of the most
atrocious crime ever known in this parish, by bringing forth
a child begotten in adultery to one Malcolm Malcolmson, a
married man in said village; also to have murdered the child,
and concealed the body in a skeo 2; which the Kirk Session
took a precognition of, and remitted the same to the Sheriff
to proceed therein, as law directs. 3
There was one of the best crops this year that has been
for many years bygone, and safely brought in by the middle of
this month; and, besides, I had as fine Turneeps and Potatoes
as are produced in Great Brittain, and also as good butter
and cheese are made on my glebelands. Soli Deo Gloria.
Tis said the French are nigh the borders of Holland,
threatning an invasion of that Republick. In December, a ship
loader with Reyned Tallow 4 from Iceland (she belonged to
one John Watt, Merchant in Dundee) broke in a storm nigh
to Scatness. The crew perished, and many run there for the
wrecks etc. and were enrich'd by reind Tallow etc. etc.
In January, Frost and snow prevailed greatly, not only
through Brittain, but most of Europe, which the French
took advantage of to overrun Holland. The Zuyder Sea was
1 Robert Watt, a wine merchant; David Downie, a goldsmith. Both were
sentenced to death. Watt, in his thirty-sixth year, was executed, confessing their
treasonable aims; Downie's punishment was commuted to transportation.
2 Skeo: small open-built house for drying.
3 The case is fully related in the MS. minutes of the Kirk-session under
November 2, 1794.
4 Reynd, or rind, or rinded tallow, is tallow melted.
frozen, and about 20 ships of the line of battle, with frigates
etc. became a prey to the French; and their General Pichegrue
exacted of the States no less than an 100 mills. of Guilders,
and set up a Gullotin at the Hague, saying he knew no distinction
betwixt republicans and those who were of the party
for the Prince of Orange. 'Tis said also that the French had
threatened to invade Great Brittain with 600,000 men and
Irland with 300,000 more. It was carried by a great majority
in Parliament that the war with France should be prosecute
with vigour, and our troups recalled from the Continent, as
1,200,000 Libs. Ster. had been given to the King of Prussia
and 6 mills. given in loan to the Emperor of Germany, in
vain. 200,000£ Ster. also to the King of Sardinia; though
this precipitate war had already cost the nation 50 mills.
Ster. of money and 50,000 lives.
The Government is now exerting their utmost for setting
forth a formidable navy (which they had better done at
first); and though this countrey is drained of men already,
I had a letter from Sir John Sinclair desiring me to offer
10 guineas to a man who would take on to he a soldier, with
other advantages; and that if I could prevail with one to raise
30 or 40 such, upon my recommendation, he would procure a
commission for him in the army. The King appointed a Fast
to he held through Great Brittain in February, on account
of the war with France, which was over before the accounts
reached this countrey; therefore the Presbytery appointed the
first Thursday of April to be keep'd in this Island.
The moneth of May was very cold, when 'tis said not only
sheep and lambs were killed in numbers thereby through the
countrey, but also that much cattle perished through lack of
May 9th. The Caledonian Mercury bears that our forces,
commanded by the Duke of York, were recalled from the
Continent, and that the Emperor and Kings of Prussia, Spain,
and Sardinia, had made peace with the French Republick,
and none adheres to us but the King of Naples.
In June, further demands were made by Government
upon this countrey for men to the Navy, threatening, in
defect of the stipulated number, to lay a cess on the island
of 25£ Ster. for each man wanting of the number required,
being the sum paid by the King to each volunteer, which
oblidg'd those of the landed interest to meet at Lerwick to
this effect. [Apparently not completed.]
I had a summons in July by the Sheriff's officer, at the
request of one Mr John Watts, a Merchant in Dundee, to
declare upon oath what I knew anent the Tallow Cargo of the
ship forsaid, which was wrecked near Scatness in this Parish
winter last. The owner, Mr Watts, pay'd me a visit after, and
said though the cargo cost him 5000£ Ster. and that 2000£
Ster. worth and upwards were saved and sent off the countrey,
yet he believed I did not concern myself with it but by report
what I heard etc.
Dr. Brodum's Botanical Syrop, said to be taken from the
most purifying and healing vertues of the vegetable system,
effectually cures all scurvies, leprosies, cancers, evils etc. to be
had at Baxter's Italian Warehouse, Edinr. in South Bridge,
in Bottles of 1£. 2s. — 11s. 6d. and 5s. 5d.
In August. An Embargo is laid upon all the Still pots in
Great Brittain to Feb. next, on account of the dearth of
victual, which occasioned the mobs rising at Birmigen in
England etc. But the price is now falling.
Admirals Cornwallis and Bridport 'tis said had defeated
the French in a naval engagement with half the number, and
taken several of their war ships. In Septr. Sir Francis Kinloch
of Gilmerton, near Haddington, was shot there by his brother
Archibald Gordon Kinloch, a Major in the Army, supposed
to be beside himself etc. 1
'Tis said the crafty French from Guadaloup stirred up
the negro slaves, with a promise of liberty etc., to murder our
people in St Vincents and the Grenada Isles, which was done
accordingly etc.
The Prince of Wales being married to his Cousin-German
of Brunswick 2 had 125,000 Libs. Sten settled per ann. besides
1 This tragical occurrence took place only a few days after Sir Francis's
succession to the family estates and honours. The 'maniac,' Sir Archibald,
succeeded, dying in 1800, when another brother came into possession.
2 This ill-starred union took place on 8th April 1795.
payment of his debts of 100,000£ Ster. by the house of
Commons. The Nation pays for all, etc.
In October, 1st week, the Barley was cut down, and some
of the Oats, and as the crop is likely to be deficient in straw,
being thin and short, feared want of fother for the cattle, and
what is cut down endangered by continued foggs.
The King was attacked by some desperate ruffians, in his
going to and return from Parliament. One shot a wind gun
with a ball; others threw stones into the coach, and broke
the windows, but happily missed the King and two other
noblemen in the coach. 1 One David Collins and another
called Kidd Wake, a Baxter, 2 are both in custody for trial.
The French having penetrated a good way into Germany
were suddenly defeated by the Imperial Generals Clairfit and
Wormser, and with great slaughter driven over the Rhine.
All methods are taken to lower the price of victual by mixtures
of grain etc.
I have now passed four score years and four in this world.
May I be always ready to depart hence at God's call and
command, and helped to be faithful to death, and all the
days of my appointed time I desire to wait till His good
time comes, which is always the best time. There is yet no
prospect of peace, though the generality both in Brittain and
France eagerly desire it. The Dutch seem to be still under
bondage to France, and Brittains have taken from them Ceylon
and the Cape of Good Hope, and most of the French Suggar
Islands are under our dominion, which our Government will
be loath to part with, and the French as loath to he without
them, and thereby probably the war will be prolonged.
Pichegrue, having entrenched himself with a great army in
Germany, Clairfait, the Austrian General, attacked him in
his camp, and at same time an army of 26,000 Hungarians,
1 Incidents of this kind were not infrequent at this time and during the
2 Baker.
who had travelled through woods, and over steep mountains,
attacked the French in the rear, which they were not aware of,
and made a dreadful havock, even to 60,000, with prisoners,
in all, though now in Septr. they are said to be carrying all
before them in Italy etc.
In the month of Aprile, 10th day, Sabbath morning, I
was struck suddenly with an apoplexy in the right ventricle
of the heart, whereby the power was taken from the body to
such degree that with difficulty I could stand, speak, or walk;
yet it pleased the Lord to preserve all my senses and the
faculties of the soul, as well as before; but being as a weaned
child, could do nothing for myself or others, only to sit in a
chair, or ly in a bed breathing; and when I could do this
without pain, as was usually the case, the same was a singular
mercy. I was oft troubled with stitches, and as this is usually
owing to a redundancy of blood, I soon got one well skilled
in letting of blood, but he was timerous, nor would draw off
as much as I desired. But as the stitch continued, I sent for
him again, and caused him take as much, which relieved me of
the stitches. But my stomach was gone, and nauseated the
best meats. My whole body in very short time reduced to a
skeleton. But as it pleased the Lord to spare life, I considered
it was duty to use the means of recovery, and therefore my
good wife got up early, and gave a cup of port wine mixed
with the powder of Jesuits' bark. Two hours after I took some
coffee, with bread spread with butter and marmalade. At
4 in the afternoon I got for dinner some fat broth mix'd either
with some small bitts of fowls, veal or lamb, and also a
little barley and raisons, and all strongly tinctured with black
pepper, and usually took a drink of beer before I went to
bed. Thus I continued every day for the space of nigh two
months before I perceived any increase of strength; nay it
was like a journey to walk from the bed to the chimney.
But it pleased God on the 6th day of June to make me feel
such increase of strength that I was able to walk round the
room and go into the garden next day, and take two turns
round the walks. Next Sabbath I went about family worship
morning and evening, and about 8 days after desired the Precentor
to intimate from the Latterin 1 that the people should
bring their children for baptism, and also their marriages
might be performed without going to any other minister.
But I still continue so feeble of body that I could not venture
to officiate in Publick for the space of 5 months. But on the
1st Sabbath of Septr. I lectured at the Ness Kirk to a
crowded auditory, and on the 3rd Sabbath of Septr. Do. at
the Kirk of Sandwick as usual. 2 Soli Deo Gloria.
Septr. 28. From the Herald Chronicle Edinr. from August
13th to Do. 25th. 'tis said the French are carrying all before
them in Italy and Germany. They have laid siege to Mantua,
and laid Rome itself, with the Pope's territories, under contribution,
and that so high that Churches and Monasteries,
plate and money, must go for payment of the sum. Nay,
Suabia and other places in Germany are oblidg'd not only to
pay so many millions in money, besides many 1000ds of
horses, oxen, shoes, and quintals of grain, white barley, oats
etc.: That they have reached the Danube, and threatened
Vienna itself with a siege, in which event, 'tis said, the
Empress of Russia proposes to send an army of 60,000 men
to protect the Emperor's hereditary dominions. 'Tis likewise
said that the British in the East Indies have taken not only
Ceylon, Malacca and other Spice islands from the Dutch,
but that our people are gathering plants of cinnamon cloves
and nutmegs from these islands to propagate these trees
in the lands belonging to the British Company at Madras,
which will make them sharers at least in the gains of this
traffick, e'en tho' the Dutch should afterwards be put in
possession of these islands.
The French have brought the King of Spain into alliance
and treaty, and obtained his part of Hispaniola, for which
they propose to send 25,000 men to conquer Portugal, and
add the same to his dominions; and in case of war with G.
Brittain, they, as formerly, will assist him with 16 line of
Battle ships, and 18,000 men. Nay, the French are endeavour1
Latterin: The Lettron, or precentor's desk. Probably the same word as
the Lectern, or reading-desk, of Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.
2 The Kirk-session Minutes of 1796 (eight pages) are lost.
ing to make peace with all other that they may employ their
whole strength against us. We never had such a formidable
armament at sea, no less than 612 ships, whereof near 200
are of the line of Battle, from 50 to 110 guns, and near as
many Frigates from 20 to 44 guns, and of war sloops 110
from .. to 18 guns, besides others. There are about an 180
regiments in England of regular troops and fencibles, and about
58 fencible regiments in Scotland. But may we never trust
to an arm of Flesh, but in the great Jehovah, in whom is
almighty strength. Then we need not fear what the French,
or flesh and blood can do.
Two Danes are wrecked on this countrey, one at Whalsey
loaden with gin, 'tis said, for North Faro; the other loaden
with fish and oil for Spain wrecked at Unst.
Missionaries ministers are sent to the heathen to preach
the gospel where Christ yet has not been heard of etc.
January. As the Lord has been pleased of infinite mercy,
beyond expectation, to restore me to such measure of health
and strength [as to be able] to act in publick as formerly, may
it be for His glory and the good of souls. There is a good
work of God going on in Wales under the ministry of one
Mr Charles 1 etc. The Devil stirred up a malignant crew to
crush it; but through the good hand of God it still prospers
in spight of hell. And it has pleased God also to stir up in
the hearts of ministers and people of all ranks and denominations
to have the gospel propagated among the heathen in
all parts of the globe, for which end 200 ministers, not only
of Presbyterians, but Episcopalians, Anabaptists 2 etc. laying
aside all bigotry and blind zeal for parties, met together in
one Church at London, and ministers of each kind preached
to crowded congregations, for promoting the design. Great
collections were made in money for carrying on the design, for
1 This resulted in the formation of the British and Foreign Bible Society
in 1804.
2 Anabaptists: the use of the old (reproachful) name for the modern Baptist
which purpose they purchased an handsome vessel for 5000
Libs. Ster. called the Duff, and sent out 30 excellent ministers
with instructions and printed directions; and as the master
and crew, with all on hoard, were of the same Christian spirit,
such order and harmony reigned among them that bore a
resemblance to heaven on earth. 1 They were bound for Ottahittee,
a large beautiful isle in the South Sea, for which they
had taken pains to learn their language, and from thence to
pass into other islands that abounds in these parts and speak
the same language. Missionaries are also sent into Africa at
Sierra Leona, where we have a Company who readily further
the design, and set on these blacks at same time to cultivate
and improve the countrey. Missionaries are employ'd on
the Malabar Coast, East Indies, and also in the West India
islands to good purpose.
The Jews, 'tis said, flock to hear the Gospel preached at
London, which prognosticates the fulfillment of the promise,
Rom. 11th, and that the end of the world draws nigh etc.
In Jany., the French made an attempt to invade Irland,
and ankerd in Bantry Bay, expecting many of the natives to
join them. But Providence blasted their design by a sudden
storm of wind. Severals were captured by our men of war;
others sunk, and a Frigate, with 20,000 stand of arms, were
taken. 2
Bouonoparte, the French General in Italy, boasts at his
victories of killing and taking prisoners more than 30,000
Germans commanded by General Wormser, among whom are
several general officers, 60 cannons and 20 stand of colours;
yet Mantua still holds out against him. Archduke Emperor's
brother commands on the Rhine, and Jourdan the French.
Fort Kiel is taken by the Germans; the Cape of Good Hope
is taken from the Dutch; and some of the best wheat and
wine to be found in the world has been brought to G.
1 This, which refers to the foundation of the London Missionary Society,
was at the beginning, in the high romance, of Foreign Mission enterprise.
Dr. William Carey, the celebrated Baptist missionary, had arrived in Bengal
in 1793, nearly four years before this time.
2 This is the story of the invading expedition of General Hoche, which came
to Bantry Bay to aid the Irish rebels in 1796.
Brittain. As confidently reported, all the Spice Islands are
become ours by conquest, only Batavia remains, and is to be
soon besieged, and all the Suggar Islands are to be taken from
the French except Guadalupe. A Fast was observed March
9th through Scotland, according to the King's proclamation,
on account of the war with France, as has been done several
times on the same account, yet these proud enemies insulted
our ambassador — a strong evidence that our fastings were
rather superficial and hypocritical, otherwise our enemies had
been humbled, and had rather sent ambassadors desiring
peace with us.
Lignums Antiscorbutick Drops and Brodums Restorative
Nervous Cordial are become famous for cure of such diseases.
By late Gasetts of Feb. and March 'tis said the French
landed 1200 armed men in Pembrokeshire of Wales, whom
the people there would soon have destroyed had they not
timeously submitted to the Lord Lieutenant of the County
and surrendered as Prisoners. They were commanded by an
Englishman, called Wall, who had narrowly escaped execution
for murder, and had fled to France, and will probably meet
with his due reward. 'Tis said all these men were French
Convicts etc. Mantua has surrendered to the French. The
Pope's defeated, his army ruined, himself in danger, and the
rich chapel of Loretto taken by the French etc.
One Shirnding, 1 a Saxon nobleman, Ranger of the Electoral
Forrests, wrote a letter to King George, and an address at
same time to his subjects of Great Brittain, to join with him
etc. for promoting good design on foot to send missionaries
etc. into such dark places of the earth where the name of a
Saviour has not been known. William Couper, a poor young
lad, and apprentice to a bookbinder at London, though without
learning, yet being well acquainted with the Scriptures
of truth, and endowed with a happy talent of speaking from
them, seems to be employed as an instrument under God for
1 Many interesting notices, such as this, recorded by Mill, are not to be
found in books of general history. The name is suggestive of Count Zinzendorf,
founder of the Moravian settlement at Herrnhut, but he died in 1760.
removing the Vail that hitherto has kept Jews from embracing
Christ Jesus, the only Saviour of Sinners of all sorts.
In March we had accounts of taking Trinidad, a West
India Island of 90 miles long and 60 do. broad, from the
Spaniards by Sir Ralph Abercrombie, without losing but one
officer. They burned four ships of war themselves to prevent
[their] falling into our people's hands, but they captured one
of 74 notwithstanding etc. Sir John Jervis' squadron
took 6 of their greatest ships, from 1300 to 2500 tons and
upwards of Burden, and got a complete victory of their fleet
in the Mediterranean sea.1
In June. The Cities of London and Edinr. have petitioned
for a peace with France; and in order to a speedy and honourable
peace, to dismiss Mr Pit and the present ministers of
State, for relief of the heavy burdens the nation groans under.
A mutiny arose in the Navy respecting their wages etc.
as too small, and, when all their demands were granted, they
grew more insolent, and still required more, which the King
and Parliament would not grant. Enquiry being made of the
incendiary, the knave being discovered and dreading the consequences,
he fled to his friends in France, who had bribed
him, and several of his accomplices are like to pay dear for
it. General Abercrombie intended an attack upon the isle
of Porto Rico, but found it so strongly fortified as to require
15,000 men, whereas he had only 3000, and was obliged to
desist. Having received a letter from the Missionary Society
at Edinburgh in Feb. last, signifying that about 30 ministers
had proposed to the Directors of the East India Company at
London to transport themselves and families for Bengal in
order to preach the Gospel among 14 millions of their subjects
there who were living in gross Idolatry and paganism:
It appears that some malignant officers among the military
who had been there had trumpeted up several lies and slanders
of a good minister who had been there, insinuating thereby
that their people were rather worse than better by his
ministry, and thereby had prejudiced the Directors as being
1 This engagement took place on 14th February, off Cape St. Vincent, where
four ships were taken.
prejudicial to their worldly interests; therefore desiring I
would write to the Directors at London in favours of these
missionary ministers, and procure as many ministers etc. to
join in the application as possible; in the month of Aprile
last I drew up a petition to the Directors of the East India
Company at London, wherein such arguments were used
from Scripture and reason that if these did not serve to
convince would not fail to confound them; and as names and
authorities without these could avail nothing, I signed these
reasons alone and transmitted the same to the Missionary
Society at Edinr., who it appears did send my letter to the
Directors of the East India Co. in consequence of which I had
in June a letter from Mr. Love, Secretary to the Missionary
Society, signifying that they had elected me one of their
members for this present year 1797.
In July, the newspapers give accounts that severals of
the mutineers on board the fleet were taken on their way to
France, and that Parker, the ringleader, was condemned to
be hanged by a court martial. 1
The Earl of Oxford represented that he knew 50 Royal
Burghs in England who had not ten houses in them, 2 and
yet were privilidged to send two members to Parliament,
when a village called Mary le Bone, 3 containing 8000 houses,
and paying £80,000 Ster. Taxes had no representative in
N.B. Some of the mutineers on board our men of war
are made examples of, the chief ringleaders hanged on board
these ships, others scourged severely, others imprisoned for a
time; and to prevent such villany for the future, the military
both by sea and land, in regiments and in men of war, have
offered an 100£. Ster. to such as discover such attempts in
time coming.
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was celebrated at the
Ness Church, August 27th. There were about 9 tables and
1 Richard Parker was hanged on June 30th.
2 Old Sarum had no more houses than two, if so many, yet it Was the constituency
that returned the elder Pitt to Parliament!
3 The 'village of Mary le Bone'!
upwards of ten guineas collected. 1 Said month the Belligerent
Powers agreed to send Ambassadors to Lisle in Flanders,
for treating of peace, and Lord Malmsburgh was again sent
by our government and three more conjunct with him.
Paul Petrowits, the present Czar of Muscovy, has made a
friendly treaty of Commerce with Great Brittain, and with
equal privilidges to the subjects of each government.
In Sept. two despots of the French Republick went from
Paris to Lisle, and had the assurance to tell Lord Malmsburgh
etc. that, unless he agreed that all the Islands Great Brittain
had taken from France were restored, and besides an indemnity
granted in money for charges of war, no peace was to be
expected, and he behoved, without delay, to leave the French
territories, which he accordingly did, and in a few days
arrived at London etc.
In Septr. two well qualified young men, Messrs. Campel
and Henderson, were sent from the Society at Glasgow as
missionary ministers to the Foutah countrey in Africa, for
assistance of that good man, Mr Clerk, and were kindly
received by him, and the Governor, that excellent man Mr.
Mcauley 2 — all Scotsmen. Two missionary ministers were sent
at same time from the Society at Edinr. for New York, to
labour among the Indians in America. Two missionary Baptist
Ministers, Messrs. Carey 3 and Thomas, were sent to succeed
Mr Swartz, in Bengal, a large field for propagating the Gospel,
where, if many such good ministers were employed, might
probably, through divine aid, 'tis said, prove the happy instruments
of spreading the Gospel light, not only through
that country but through Thibet and Boutan, 4 two large
kingdoms bordering thereon, nay, even to Tartary etc.
In Nov. we are informed that a sea engagement had taken
1 This was an enormous collection in the circumstances of the place.
2 Zachary Macaulay, then a merchant at Sierra Leone, and father of
Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay.
3 The renowned William Carey, alluded to in a previous note. Besides his
direct missionary labour, he was the instrument of the translation of the Bible
into many of the languages of India. Died 1834.
4 Boutan: Bootan or Bhotan, a territory on the north-east of India.
place, on the coast of Holland, with the Dutch, prompted
thereto by the French Directory, under whose Dominion they
presently groan. 'Tis said they were equally matched as to
ships, guns etc. about 20 men of war on each side, but it
pleased God to give our people such a complete victory that
they captured 13 of their best ships, destroyed others, and had
they not been so nigh their own coast, none had escaped. 1
In Sept. 'tis very remarkable that a gentleman, Alex Spiers
of Elderslie, nominated 5 young men of good characters to the
parishioners, Heritors, Elders, etc. of the Parish of Neilston,
that after a hearing of each of these young men, assured them
he would present the man they should chuse, and accordingly
they choosed Mr. William Hood Preacher of the gospel at
Tarbolton. Happy would it be for Scotland and all Patrons
that his example was followed, and thereby avoid that aggravated
sin and guilt they bring on their own souls by intruding
ministers into Parishes over the bellies of a reclaiming people.
Admiral Duncan, who commanded in the naval engagement
above mentioned is a Scotchman, and his family, 'tis said,
resides in Edinr. 2 He had the dignity of a Peer conferred on
him by the King, called Lord Viscount Duncan; and the Vice--
Admiral Onslow the dignity of a Barron, called Lord Onslow. 3
N.B. 'Tis said where missionaries are sent in Africa, they
cutt old people's throats when unable to labour; 4 and in
Bengal 50,000 wives are buried alive annually with husbands
corpses or in the funeral pile of their husbands. Horrendum
In January we had very stormy weather, and thereby had
cause to fear that much harm has been done to our trade by
shipwrecks etc.
1 The great victory of Admiral Duncan, off Camperdown, was gained on the
11th of October. De Winter's ship, with eight others of the line, and two
frigates, were captured.
2 Admiral Duncan's family at this time resided in George Square, No. 5.
3 Vice-Admiral Onslow. He was, on 30th October 1797, created a Baronet,
in consideration of his participation, as second in command, in the victory. The
Earl of Onslow is the head of the elder branch of the same family.
4 i.e. The natives do.
Feb. 23. I am now fourscore and six years old; and
through the tender mercy of a good and gracious God, am
still enabled to keep my tours at both Kirks as well as ever.
May it be for his glory and the good of souls that I am
spared so long; and, with Job, may I be helped to wait with
patience all the days of my appointed time on Earth, etc.
The war with France goes on. They threaten to invade
Great Brittain with 300,000 men, by putting 10,000 on rafters
of wood so formed and fitted with raw hides etc. as to be proof
against our bullets, and also with furnaces to heat their own
bullets to fire and burn our ships of war, which our people
justly regard to be no inure than empty puffs. A considerable
number of our East India Merchant ships have arrived with
cargoes valued at 6 mills. Ster. and two of these loaded, 'tis
said, with cinnamon, cloves, nutmegs and pepper, being the
most valuable commodities that ever arrived in England. The
nation is loaded with Taxes, which makes the French insult us
as unable to continue the war. But to shew them the contrary,
voluntary subscriptions were opened at London, mid 150,000
Libs. Ster. soon raised, whereof the King signed for 20,000
Lib. out of the Privy purse, so called. Whereupon all ranks,
out of love to their King and countrey, through Great Britain,
signified their willingness to contribute. Nay, a subscription
is willingly given in this countrey, by all who have money, and
I have signed, with others in this Parish, for ten guineas, to be
continued yearly while the war lasts. 1
March 22nd. A Fast was observed on account of war
continued in France, and a long printed paper read, as
appointed by Commissioners of the General Assembly, setting
forth the enemy's designs to ruin us, as they have done to
Holland, Venice etc.
It pleased the Lord to afflict my youngest daughter Bell
with a severe cold and sore throat, whereby she was brought
very low in two weeks' time, and at last ended in death, April
27th, being 42 years old, and it has proved fatal to many
1 Voluntary contributions in aid of Government for prosecuting the war — not
usually noticed in historical works.
thro' the parish, of both sexes, young and old. My greatest
concern was for the salvation of her soul, and O! how gladly
and cheerfully would I part with all relations on earth, had I
solid grounds to conclude that they were gone to their everlasting
rest; and if otherwise, better they had never been born.
In August, we have accounts that the crops of corns and
Hay is like to suffer much by the long continued drought there
is through all Brittain as well as here; yet the crop here seems
to promise well.
No matterial action has yet occurred in war with the
French, who sent their emissaries into Irland, who stirred up
the wild Irish Papists to Rebellion. But our British army
there haying seized their ringleaders, and killed several thousands
of these savages, they were soon brought under. 1
Accompts are received at London from Captn. Wilson of
the ship called the Duff, who went with the missionaries for
Ottahittee in the South Sea. He attempted from Brasile to
get round. Cape Horn, the southmost part of America, but met
with such strong gales of southerly winds, whereby he suffered
some damage, and was oblidg'd to take a contrary course by the
Cape of Good Hope, and his first landing was at New Zealand,
consisting of two isles as bigg as Great Brittain, containing
about 100,000 inhabitants; thence to Ottahittee, a course of
16,000 miles, in an 100 days. They were joyfully received, and
left about half the number of missionaries there, and a district
or shire allotted them by their King, and that the best of 33
Districts into which the island was divided, and where our
astronomers made their observations on the Transit of Venus
over the sun's disk in 1769. From Ottahittee the Duff sailed
1800 miles to the Friendly Islands, so called, being a cluster of
small isles containing 200,000 souls, and another group of Isles
at some distance from these, called the Society Isles, being all
1 The rebels seized Enniscorthy, sword in hand, and took Wexford, but were
repulsed at Ross. It is said that nearly 20,000 men, commanded by one Harvey,
were met by General Lake at Vinegar Hill, and overthrown with great loss. In
the north of Ireland, also, at Ballynahinch, a body of 7000 were badly beaten,
and though 900 Frenchmen landed at Killala to aid them, they were, after
some success, repulsed, and the rebellion died away.
mostly of the same complexion, language, and friendly disposition.
What remained of the missionaries were left there.
'Tis said they had a very gross notion of the Supreme Being;
that He had a wife and children, who were inferior deities, and
presided over the starrs, seas and lands etc. They used sacrifices
for atonement, and believed in a state of rewards and
punishment for good and bad etc.
August 25th. Harvest begins here, and the crop promises
well. Some of our frigates have taken about a dozen of Greenlanders
belonging to the Dutch, and brought them into Bressay
Sound at Lerwick. The Packet set out from thence last month
for Aberdeen, and was captured by the way and carried for
Norway, where they let the crew go.
August 1st. The newspapers give accounts of a complete
victory obtained by Admiral Nielson over the French Squadron
from Toulon, at Alexandria in Egypt, 1 tho' they were superior
to his squadron in number of ships, guns and men, after landing
the French General Buonaparte with an army in Egypt,
who went from thence to Grand Cairo, where, 'tis said, he was
encountred and defeated by 20,000 Arabs, and himself killed;
while the French Gasettes (to deceive their people) proclaim
the contrary. About the same time, a squadron from Brest
was sent for Irland to assist the rebells there, having a General
on board the Hoch of 74 guns, called Hardi, with 3000 men
and arms and an 100 mills. of livers [livres] etc. which were
defeated and taken by Admiral Warren 2 with 4 frigates etc.
All lenient measures being taken by Government with rebells
to submit in vain front their robberies and murders of good
subjects, they threaten to extirpate the whole brood of that
hellish crew. 3
Through the tender mercies of a good and gracious God, I
am enabled, at the age of 87 years, to keep my tours to the
1 The battle of Aboukir. The French expedition, under Bonaparte, consisted
of 300 sail, with 40,000 troops on board.
2 Admiral Warren: Sir J. B. Warren. The French squadron consisted of
one ship of the line and eight frigates.
3 The author has not much sympathy with the Irish agitators.
north parish without interruption to this month of Feb., when
such storms of snow arose that I was keeped from preaching
two Sabbaths successively at in nearest church, and great
numbers of sheep through the whole parish were smothered
in the snow; though, at same time the snow lying so long
and wasting gradually away will be of great value to the
The war continues with France, and the nation groans under
a heavy load of Taxes to support the same.
In reading the account given of Captn Cook's voyages to
the Pacifick Ocean for makeing discoveries there and finding
out a north eastern passage to the East Indies, which he found
impracticable by ice and cold. He was the first who found out
the Sandwich Isles, 12 in number, so called from the Earl of
Sandwich, first Lord of the Admiralty, who fitted out a ship
for him called the Resolution and another for Captain Clerk,
who accompanied him. In the largest and most populous of
these isles, called Owhyhee, where he lost his life in attempting
to recover a pinnace the inhabitants had carried off, there are
reckoned 150,000 inhabitants and as many inure in the other
isles as amount to 400,000 in all — a large field for Christian
In May, the Gasettes bear, the war continues. The French
are recruiting their navy for attacking Irland. They have
fought several battles with the Germans under the command
of the Archduke Charles, the Emperor's brother, and have been
as oft beaten under their General Jourdan, though they are
always victors in their own newspapers. Buonaparte is still
warring against the Turks and wild Arabs in Egypt. He met
with a signal defeat by Sir Sydney Smith at the siege of a Fort
called Acra 1 in the Holy Land. His design of invading Egypt
seems to have been with a view to dispossess our East India
Company of their territories in Bengal, by sending a number of
1 St. Jean d'Acre. The defence of Acre is one of the most gallant in history.
The Mussulman garrison under Hassan Bey, aided by Sir Sidney Smith, with a
small body of British troops, repelled Buonaparte in eleven assaults, compelling
him to retire with the loss of eight generals, eighty-five officers, and one half of
his army.
French officers to stir up their surrounding neighbours to
make war upon them; and 'tis said their late greatest enemy,
Tippoo Saib, 1 was again threatening to attack their possessions
with 100,000 men.
Two ministers from the Missionary Society in Scotland,
viz. Mr. James Haldane and Mr. Wm. Innes 2 came here July
1st, who preached to a crowded congregation at the manse upon
a very short advertisement. Text, Ecclesiastes 9 and 10,
Whatsoever thy hand findeth thee to do etc. 'Tis remarkable
that the scope agreed exactly with the text, Heb. 3 and
7 etc., I was then preaching upon — To-day if ye will hear his
voice harden not your hearts etc. They fraughted a boat
next day for Lerwick where they preached, and in the opposite
isle of Bressay on the Sabbath day. From thence they
preached in every parish of the Countrey, each of them for
most part twice every day, distributing very edifying tracts
among the people for religious instruction. They visited not
only the larger isles of Yell, Unst, and Fetlar, but Foula,
16 miles from Walls, and a smaller isle called Skerries that lies
12 miles from Whalsey — all which they accomplished in four
weeks' time, and preaching gradually on their return to this
parish, where, being providentially stopped a whole week, they
preached every day to a crowded congregation; the people
gladly leaving their work to hear them. As their consciences
bore witness that they preached the true spirit of the Gospel,
and though they did not lay down a method, as I commonly
do, to make the people understand and remember what they
hear the better, yet to Brand their Doctrine with the epithet
of loose Harangues is a gross falsehood, for they never lost
sight of their text either in the illustration or application.
Moreover to suppose that such men would undertake such a
vast circuit, and waste their persons and properties with an eye
only to a shadow of vain glory, is ridiculous to suppose. 'Tis
1 Tippoo Saib. His capital, Seringapatam, was this year taken by the
British, and his body was found under a heap of the slain.
2 Mr. James Alexander Haldane, afterwards minister for many years of the
Tabernacle (Baptist) Congregation, Edinburgh. Rev. William Innes, afterwards
D.D., Baptist minister, Edinburgh.
much more reasonable to conclude that those who bely and
slander their characters and conduct, which throw shame and
contempt upon false, unfaithful ministers, who neither understand,
preach nor practice according to the true spirit of the
gospel; who, like the malignant Jews, when they saw the
multitude who assembled to hear Paul, were moved with envy,
contradicting and Blaspheming; and to publish lies upon the
members of such a society of excellent men, whose chief study
and endeavours are to promote the glory of the Redeemer,
in the eternal salvation of sinners ready to perish for lake
of christian knowledge, as 'tis said is done by an act of
a late General Assembly, and appointing the same to be read
by every minister, which no conscientious man would or can
do, without involving himself in a gross absurdity to read
falsehoods from the chair of verity.
Aug. 18th. Mr Haldane preached at Ness Kirk, and Mr
Innes at Sandwick, and in the evening went off in a six oared
boat, and missing Fair Isle, they landed next morning at
Sanda in the Orkneys by a favourable Providence, when the
wind shifted suddenly to the south for return of the boat
next day. 1
January. Began and continued two weeks blowing a
tempest with snow, whereby many ships are wrecked on rocks
of this and other parishes; many lives are lost, and many
more, 'tis to be feared, around Great Britain, with the greater
loss of souls etc.
Our trade at present employs 10,000 vessels, and 120,000
seamen. Exports valued at 27 mills. ster. Imports at 21 mills.
ster. yet the kingdom is burdened with taxes, whereof great
sums are given to powers on the Continent for carrying on
war against the French; nay, so infatuated are our statesmen
as to send armies to attack them there after several
fruitless attempts lately at Holland, and Ostend, to the great
1 The proceedings of this tour are related in The Lives of Robert Haldane of
Airthrey, and of his Brother James Alexander Haldane. Edin. W. P. Nimmo.
expense of our nation in blood and treasure, which we had no
concern with while masters at sea.
Notwithstanding the most probable methods had been
taken to prevent Mutiny, several hardened wretches had lately
been found guilty of this crime, and condemned to execution
for the same, whereupon Vice-Admiral Waldgrave, President
of the Court, made a speech to the culprits, representing the
heinous nature of their crime, and exhorted them to repentance
in such a serious and forcible manner that no Doctor of
Divinity could have spoken to better purpose.
The French Government has undergone another Revolution
by setting up three Consuls, and the Chief one is General
Buonaparte, with a Salary of 20,000 pounds Ster. per an., the
2nd Consul only 6000 Libs. Ster., and the 3rd. also 6000 Ster.
as their Directory and the Legislative members of Convention
are reduced to 300, while the Royalists, by them called
Chouans, 1 are increasing, and several 1000s of Russians are to
be sent to their assistance as reported.
All methods are taken to supply the poor through deficiency
of last year's crop in Brittain and Irland.
May. A complete union betwixt Great Brittain and
Irland takes place by the title of the empire of Great Britain
and Ireland, to have one Parliament, but the Irish members
are double to the Scots peers and commoners, as contributing
double of what Scotland does for support of fleets and armies
The remainder of the French army in Egypt submitted to
the Turks, and had liberty to leave the countrey; yet the war
goes on as formerly.
Imperial Parliament begins Jan. 22, 1801. Malta is taken
from the French, and General Abercromby goes there with
an army, to fall on the French left in Egypt. The yellow
fever rages at Cadiz in Spain, and, as a plague, sweeps off
multitudes. 'Tis said that the present King George, tho' one
of the best Kings that ever was in Great Brittain, is now to
assume the title of King of the United Kingdom of Great
1 Chouans: bands of insurgent royalists.
Brittain and Irland, Defender of the Faith, and of the United
Church of England and Irland. On earth the Supreme Head,
sacred Majesty and supreme head belongs only to the Lord
Jesus Christ, to whom all power in heaven and earth is given.
Therfore the Giver…. is equally guilty of blasphemy.
The wars go on with France, who appears to have drawn
over Russia and Denmark with Sweden to their assistance.

The necessaries of life continue as scarce and dear as the
former year. But 'tis a token for good that the Lord has put
into the hearts of all ranks and all parties, both civil and
ecclesiastick, such a catholick spirit for promoting pure and
undefiled religion through all parts of the world, at home
and abroad, and that the Lord is pouring out of his good
spirit, both in the Highlands of Scotland, and in Wales etc.
Feb. 23rd. I entered into the 90th year of my age, and may
say, with the good Patriarch Isaac, I know not the day of
my death, yet desire, with good Job, to wait patiently God's
best time etc.
'Tis said a squadron of an 100 ships of war, including
Frigats, had sailed for the Baltick to make an attack upon
Elsineur, a fortress at the mouth of the Baltick.
April 10th. This day in 1796, being Sabbath, it pleased
the Lord suddenly to deprive me of all strength of body, as
above narrated; yet blessed be His Great Name, who has
still preserved life, while many and some of greatest note for
worldly possessions, and younger, have been since cutt off;
and that I have lived to find such a spirit stirred up, among
all ranks etc., for promoting the Mediator's Kingdom and
interests at home and abroad.
A squadron commanded by Admiral Parker destroyed
most of the Danish ships of war, but spared Copenhagen. 1
As peace is made with Denmark, will prove a great blessing
1 Copenhagen. Nelson is ignored by the author in this fight. He and
Parker were in joint command. The engagement took place in March.
to this countrey, 1 whence we have dales, 2 boats, Bughts 3 etc.
they can't be without.
June. Accounts bear that a great victory was gained over
the French in Egypt by our army, under the command of
two of our best generals, Abercromby and Sir Sidney Smith,
who lost their lives in the cause. 4
Octr. 1st. Peace was made with France, whereupon great
rejoicings took place in both Kingdoms. Hence it appears
that of all the isles taken etc. they have reserved only Trinidad
in the West Indies, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Island
of Ceylon in the East Indies, and Malta is restored to the
antient Knights of St John. 'Tis well if the peace continue
with that restless nation.
It is remarkable, that while I was lecturing upon one of
the 15 Psalms of Degrees so called, I was suddenly seized
with a sudden slowness in the Circulation of Blood, whereby
my sight and strength beginning to fail, I concluded, and
sat down, which the people perceiving, and, imagining I was
gone, broke out suddenly with the most lamentable outcries,
weeping and wailing, and some fell into convulsion fits. The
Precentor and one of the Elders came to me, and proposed to
sing part of a psalm. But, soon recovering, I stood up and
called the congregation to compose themselves, and concluded
with prayer etc. as well as ever. It seems to resemble an
apoplexy, as I had several times fallen down as dead, but soon
recovered. A gentlewoman in the neighbourhood coming next
day to enquire how it was with me, I told her a story of that
excellent divine, Mr. Andrew Melvine, 5 who took King James
6th by the sleeve, and told him of his ingratitude in persecuting
them who were his best friends, and had preserved
his life when he was in his swadling clouts from enemies
that sought his death and ruin. And when King James
threatened to hang him for this, he told him plainly, it would
1 i.e. Shetland. 2 Deals.
3 Bughts: fishing-lines.
4 This victory at Alexandria was dearly bought by the death of Sir Ralph
Abercromby. The author is misinformed as to the fate of Sir Sidney Smith.
He lived till 1840, when he died at Paris, aged seventy-six.
5 Mr. Andrew Melvine: the famous Andrew Melville.
be only in alusion to children playing Shuggy-shew a while
and soon to Heaven. He gives an account of the death of
Mr. David Black his collegue, who pleasantly resigned his
breath at the Lord's Table, which he calls his translation etc.
January 1st. O! the rapid flux of time, which few observe
or know its worth, to improve aright, and thereby prepare for
eternity. When one godless crew goes off, another comes on,
the generality still resembling the old world, eating and
drinking, marrying and giving in marriage etc. Blessed be
God, who still reserves a remnant of true Christians who worship
him in spirit and in truth, and for whose sake the world
is continued till the numbers of Christ's mystical body are
fully completed.
February 23rd. Three score and ten was reckoned the
standard of man's life in Moses' days, and this day I am arrived
at my four score and ten. Lord teach thoughtless mortals so
to number their days as to apply their hearts to heavenly
wisdom etc.
The Missionary Societies in England and Scotland still go
on with their wonted zeal to propagate the Gospel, in its
greatest purity, for the conversion of sinners, both at home
and abroad, in every quarter of the world, notwithstanding
of many interruptions by wars among the savages in Africa
and in the South Sea Islands, where three of the missionaries
were murdered at Tongatabow, 1 and the means of subsistence,
namely Hoggs, yams, and Plantains etc. utterly destroyed by
these savages. And tho' only 5 of 30 sent to Ottahitte, the
chief Island in these seas remained, yet ten more are sent there
to prosecute the design. Many are brought to the saving
knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Cape of Good
Hope in Africa, and also in Bengale, where the whole Bible
has been translated by Mr Courie 2 into that language, and
he has a son called Felix, who preaches to the natives in the
same language.
1 The largest of the Friendly Islands.
2 The Rev. William Carey is doubtless alluded to.
The Bible is also translated into the Chinese language, and
Missioners will probably soon be sent from Great Brittain for
preaching the Gospel to that populous nation in their own
language. The Moravians still persevere to spread the Gospel
light in every part of the Globe. A Jew called Fray, lately
converted in Germany, came to London and joined with the
Missionary Society there, in partaking of the Lord's Supper
and prayed among them, to the admiration of all that heard
him. These are the first fruits, and prognosticat the harvest
fast approaching when Jews and Gentiles shall be united in
one Body, partly fulfilled already. The Pope stripped of
all but the name, and the Grand Turk brought very low
— and the consummation of all things fast approaching
July 14th. The Lord seems to continue his controversy
with this countrey 1 by withholding temporal mercies for the
abuse of them by gluttony, drunkeness, and whoredoms etc.
They have a poor fishing and lean crop; yet mercy is mixed
with judgement; some fair days, after much rain, to fill the
In December we are informed by a vessel, which brought
provisions from London for the Copper miners of this Parish,
that the French had invaded Switzerland with 40,000 men,
and that several men of war of French, Dutch, and Spanish
had gone up the Mediterranean Sea, and that the Turk were
in league with them; and that our Government had sent men
of war to protect Malta etc. which if attacked, may probably
involve soon into war again with that fickle treacherous
January 1st. I was born 1712, Feb. 23rd which then completes
my 91st year. Being licensed to Preach the Gospel 1739,
and after, while employed as an assistant for some time to a
minister in Buchan, got a call to be minister of this Parish,
where I was ordained in April 1743, which will now complete
1 This countrey: that is, Shetland.
the 60th year of my ministry among this people of Dunrossness
etc. 'Tis only those who are faithful even unto death who
obtain the crown of life. So help me, O Lord etc. Unless
the countrey is supplied with seed from the North of Scotland,
their labouring the land will be in vain, and Orkney shares
in the same calamity….
[With this entry, January 1, 1803, the narrative closes. It
is not, however, certain that it really ended here. The termination
is at the end of a page, with the probability that the
subsequent portion is lost. Well worn with years, his ninety--
first being nearly completed, he might well have laid down the
pen which for more than sixty years he had so cunningly
handled, not only in this narrative but in many other writings.
But he did not do so. The Kirk-session Records of the parish
bear witness to his conscientious earnestness in the discharge
of his duties to the very last. For more than two years
longer these Records are indited, almost wholly, in his own
hand, the last entry being February 3, 1805, twelve days
before his death — 'No travelling'; the state of the weather
ostensibly the cause of his being detained from conducting
service in one or other of the churches under his charge.
The last sermon recorded is on the 14th of October preceding.
On each subsequent Sunday. he is 'detained' or 'keept back'
by 'bad weather,' or by 'frost and snow,' or it is simply
'no travelling.' But it is not improbable that while reasons
were assigned for his absence in this way, the real cause was
that his travelling were o'er and his work accomplished.
He died on 15th February 1805.
While the object in the present undertaking is to emphasise
the local and general, rather than the personal, interest of Mill's
work, readers who have followed the gallant old man's story
up to nearly his ninety-second year, will not grudge to have
placed before them what is known of him during the closing
years thereafter of his life by way of conclusion to the autobiographic
narrative. The following is therefore extracted
from the Kirk-session Records.]
1 April 17. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 144 from v. 9th
April 24. The Minister preach'd. Text Prov. 4 and 23.
May 1, 8 and 15. No sermon at Sandwick — Bad weather.
May 22. The Minister lectur'd at Sandwick.
May 29. The Minister keept from Church by bad weather.
June 5. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 145 to v. 10th.
June 12. The Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
June 19. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 145 ad finem.
June 26. The Minister preach'd. Text ut supra.
July 3. The Minister keep'd from Sandwick, bad weather.
July 10. The Minister lectur'd at Sandwick.
July 17. The Minister lectur'd on Ps. 146.
July 24. The Minister preach'd. Text ut supra.
July 31. The Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
August 7. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 147 ab initio.
August 14. The Minister preach'd. Text ut supra.
August 21. The Minister lectur'd at Sandwick.
August 28. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 147 ad finem.
September 4. Minister preach'd. Text ut supra.
September 11. Minister keep'd from Sandwick etc.
September 18. Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
September 25. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 148th.
October 2. The Minister preach'd. Text ut supra.
October 9, 16, 23, 30. November 6. (Detained from
November 13. Minister preach'd at Ness Kirk.
November 17. Fast Day appointed by Government on
account of our war with France and a famine by two
years' bad crops etc. The Minister preach'd Luke 5
v. 31st.
November 20. The Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
November 27. The Minister lectur'd Ps. 149th.
December 4, 11, 18, 25. (Detention by bad weather etc.)
1 A portion of the Records is lost from 11th March 1802 to April 17th,
1803. The service, when not mentioned as 'at Sandwick,' is at the parish
church of Dunrossness. Sandwick is several miles distant, then to be reached
only on foot or on horseback.
January 1. Minister lectur'd at Sandwick.
January 8. Minister keep'd from Church by stormy weather.
January 15, 22, 29. February 5, 12. (Detention by weather.)
February 19. The Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
February 26, March 4, 11. (Detention.)
March 18. Minister lectur'd at Sandwick.
March 25. The Minister keep'd from Church by storm etc.
April 1. The Minister lectur'd on Psalm 50th.
(A case of Church discipline this day. On payment of
30/ stg. to the poor, the parties were dismissed
for one day's appearance and publick rebuke as
April 8, 15. (Detained from Sandwick by weather.)
April 22. The Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
April 29. The Minister lectur'd. Ecclesiastes 1 Chapter
to v. 4th. (A case of discipline again.)
May 6. The Minister preach'd. Text Luke 5 and 31st
(2 cases of discipline).
May 13. The Minister keept from Sandwick.
May 20. The Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
May 27. The Minister lectur'd Eccles. 1st from v. 4th.
June 3. The Minister preach'd. Text Luke 5 and 31st
ut supra.
June 10. No preaching at Sandwick. Bad weather.
June 17. The Minister preached at Sandwick.
June 24. The Minister lectur'd Eccles. 1st from 11 and
July 1. The Minister preach'd. Text ut supra.
July 8. Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
July 15. The Minister lectur'd, Eccles. ab initio.
July 22. The Minister preach'd. Text Luke 5 and 31.
July 29. Minister preach'd at Sandwick.
August 5. The Minister lectur'd, Ecclesiastes Chapter 2d
from v. 12th ad finem cap. [Cases of discipline thereafter.]

August 12. The Minister preached. Text Luke 5 and
August 19. Minister not at Sandwick, bad weather.
August 26. Minister Lectur'd Ps. 2d at Sandwick.
September 2. The Minister Lectur'd Eccles. 3d chap. to
v. 11.
Septr 9. The Minr Preach'd. Text ut supra.
Septr 16. Minr keept from Sandwick, bad weather.
Septembr 23. Likewise keept from Do.
Septembr 30. Minr Preach'd at Sanwick.
October 7th. Minr Lectur'd Eccles. Ch. 3 from v. 11 ad
Robert Jamison and Elspet Laurencedaughter were
solemnly Exhorted, Rebuk'd, and Dismissed on
Repentance and paying 20 shilling Ster. fine.
Octr 14. The Minr Preach'd. Text ut Supra.
Octr. 21st. Bad weather kept Minr from Sandwick.
Octr. 28th. Minr keep'd from Sandwick by Do.
Novembr 4. Minr detained by bad weather.
Novembr 11th. No travelling to Sandwick.
Novr 18th. Minr keept back by Do.
Nov'r 25th. No travelling, frost and snow.
Decembr 2d. Minr still Detain'd by Do.
Decembr 9th. No travelling — Bad Weather.
Decembr 16th. Minr detain'd from Sandwick by Do.
Decembr 23d. Minr keep't back by Do.
Decembr 30th. Bad weather for Sandwick.
January 6th. No travelling.
January 13th. [Writing almost invisible, but undoubtedly
'No travelling,' indicating faded eyesight.]
January 20th. No travelling.
Janry 27th. Do.
February 3d. Do.
Febry. 10th.
[Note. — The last date 'Febry. 10th' has apparently been
penned at the time when he inscribed the preceding entry,
in anticipation of what the record might be; but strength
failed, and he never resumed the pen. A long entry, of
date October 7th, about the distribution of the Government
Charity Meal (see APPENDIX), is in distinct and vigorous handwriting.
All the subsequent entries exhibit unsteadiness of
hand and impaired eyesight. As already mentioned, his death
occurred on 15th February, but there is no record in the
Minutes of his death or burial, and there is no tombstone
to commemorate him. The next entry is dated 30th June
1805, and narrates the settlement of the Rev. John Duncan,
formerly Assistant at Bressay, Burray and Quarff, as his

1764, March 20. — John Halcrow and Helen Roman.
Halcrow 'flatly denied,' and 'was willing to give his oath
accordingly.' The case came up again on 16th September 1764,
when 'the said John Halcrow being again asked by the Moderator
if he persisted in his denial of guilt, as he had done before
the Presbytery, answered he did, but seemed not so positive as
formerly, whereupon the Moderator told him he was desir'd by
the Presbytery to tender him the Oath of Purgation, which
was read to him, and told him at same time, that if he could
swallow that, under a Consciousness of guilt, he would stick at
Nothing, and moreover showed him the dangerous Consequences
of such a step, and gave a Copy of the Oath to an Elder in the
neighbourhood to read it and warn him of his danger, if guilty
— to see if he will confess the Crime next Preaching Sabbath.'
Next Sunday, September 23, Halcrow appeared before the
1 It has been explained in the Introduction that the records, so far as
preserved, begin in the year 1764. It has not been attempted to give anything
like a chronological transcript, but merely to present a few examples, under
different heads, to show the mode of procedure and the penalties inflicted in
cases which were then within the acknowledged jurisdiction of the Session, and
to illustrate the conditions of parochial economics, as regards the support of the
poor, and the efforts to meet occasions of destitution, etc.
Session and confessed guilt. The 'Minister Rebuk'd him
sharply, and exhorted him to a sincere and hearty Repentance.
He was summoned apud acta to appear next Preaching Sabbath
before the Congregation. Helen Roeman appeared for the first
time, in consequence of the Sentence of the Presbytery to stand
a full year.'
1765, March 3. — The Minister Lectur'd Rom. 18t ab initio
to v. 6. Session met and Constitute by prayer. John Strang,
a young man in Virkie, and Janet Cadil, being delated as
guilty, being Cited, Compear'd and acknowledg'd guilt together.
They were exhorted to a Sincere and hearty Repentance,
and summoned apud acta to appear next Lord's Day
to make satisfaction for the scandal.
John Harper and Margaret Charlesdaughter appear'd the
3d time before the Congregation, were Rebuk'd and Dismiss'd
from Discipline.
1769, Septr. 24. — A case of antenuptial impropriety.
Parties denied the charge, 'and were willing to purge themselves
by oath. But the Session did not think proper to be
rash, and therefore the Moderator desired them to wait of him
at his house, and he would spew them first a Copy of the Oath
they were to take, and summoned them apud acta to appear
before the Session next Sabbath day.'
The case was not however again brought up. Other similar
antenuptial offenders confessing, were 'exhorted to a sincere and
hearty Repentance, and summoned to appear next preaching
Sabbath before the Congregation to be Rebuk'd etc.' A single
appearance was usually deemed insufficient 'satisfaction for the
Scandal,' as it was termed, and appearances for the third, fourth,
up to the ninth, time are frequently found before the parties
were dismissed from discipline.
1773, August 1. — Robert Moodie and Ann Sinclair having
obeyed the appointment of Presbytery by standing 26 Sabbaths
before the Congregation were Rebuk'd for the last time
and Dismiss'd from Discipline. Paid 15 shillings ster.
1774, April 10. — Thos Hay and Barbara Stout having
made their appearance before the Congregation for an half year
were this day Rebuk'd and Dismiss'd from Discipline, having
paid in 12 Libs. [i.e. about £1 stg.] of fine to the Treasurer.
1776, October a — Parties confessed, but this being a relapse
to the woman, and a trelapse to the man, were appointed
to stand an half year as usual in such cases.'
1776, October 27. — Margaret Stout, whose husband had
been off the countrey for four years past, and no accounts of
him, or from him; she had drawn up with an unmarried man
called George Arcus, and they both applied first to the Session
and again to the Presbytery for Marriage, which was denied,
whereupon said George had the impudence to tell the Presbytery
(tho' they were advis'd to apply to the Commissary and
take the Legal steps usual in such cases) that, if they would
not allow them marriage, they would cohabit together as man
and wife, and accordingly they seem to have done. [In consequence
of this cohabitation and its result Margaret was
sharply rebuked, as usual, and summoned to appear before the
Presbytery at their next meeting at Lerwick. There is no
evidence in the Minutes of what ensued from this compearance
before the higher Court.]
1765, September 29. — George Gilbertson appeared before
the Session, being summoned for Cursing and Swearing, and it
was proved, by two Witnesses, viz. Malcom Smith and Thomas
Johnson, that he prayed that God might Damn his Neighbour
Peter Halcrow, for which the Session appointed him to stand
before the Congregation next Preaching Sabbath and be
Rebuk'd and Pay an half crown to the poor as a line.
1766, February 23. — Elspet Sutherland in Hilwel being
summon'd to this Diet for taking the name of God in Vain,
and Margt Burgher also for Praying the Devil might go
down the sd Elspet's throat, — the same was proved upon both
by Jacobina Arcus and Ursula Andrewsdaughter, who declared
upon oath, that they heard them say what was laid to their
Charge; Therefore the Session appointed Elspet Sutherland,
being of bad fame, and most Criminal, to stand 3 Lord's Days
and be Rebuk'd before the Congregation, and Margt Burgher
to appear also and be Rebuk'd once, and were both summon'd
apud acta to appear next Preaching Sabbath. Closed with
1767, March 8. — Thomas Fea in Noss was Rebuk'd before
the Congregation for Imprecating Damnation upon his Neighbour
and taking God's name in Vain, for which the Session
appointed him to appear 3 Sabbaths before the Congregation
and Dispens'd therefore with his fine, in Regard of his
1767, Septr. 27. — Margt Burleigh in Scatness being
delated as Imprecating and praying that evil might befall her
Neighbour Christin Meinlan — that God might make her so
mad as to be a wonder to all that saw her, and be made so
blind as to go on hands and foot and none to pity her, Laur.
Lisk and Helen Ridling were Summon'd as Witnesses; and
Compeiring denied that she mentioned the name of God, or
that the last part of the Charge was true. She was Rebuk'd
and Dismiss'd.
1768, July 31. — Peter Jamison in Remick being delated
as guilty of the same [imprecating damnation, etc.], and being
called denied the Same, whereupon Andrew Work and Laurence
Sinclair there, being Call'd as Witnesses, purg'd of malice etc.
Sworn and Interrogate, the former depones that he heard Peter
Jamison forsd. pray Damnation on George Brown for a Villain,
and the Latter depones that he heard him Pray that God
might Damn him for a Knave or Villain; And the Session
observing further that Peter Jamison being Rebuk'd for the
same Crime last year, before them, was attended with this
aggravation, the Moderator Exhorted to a Sincere Repentance
and Summon'd him apud acta to appear before the Congregation
next Lord's day and be Rebuk'd for this hainous
Crime, paying an half Crown to the poor, which he had the
Impudence to refuse, saying again and again he would beobstinate.

1770, October 21. — Barbara Stout gave in a Bill last
Session, undertaking to prove that Margt Robertsdaughter
had prayed that the Devil might burn her and her Peats,
giving Robert Moodie and his mother Elizabeth Sutherland
for Witnesses, who both Declar'd that they heard Margaret
Robertsdaughter utter the very same words, but that the sd
Barbara Stout pray'd at same time that God might Damn her
the said Margt Robertsdaughter, and that they were willing
to give their Oaths accordingly before any Judge Competent —
for both which Scandals the Session appointed Margt Robertsdaughter
to appear two Several Lord's Days and be Rebuk'd
before the Congregation, and Barbara Stout to appear first
Preaching Sabbath to be Rebuk'd before the Congregation
and pay an half Crown of fine as usual in such cases. Closed
with prayer.
1778, October 4. — George Halcrow in Bigton Complain'd
that Robert Sinclair there had said in presence of George
Brown in Rerwick and Hary Sinclair in Irland, that if he had
gotten fish-hooks from Margt. Halcrow (who is a poor woman
living in Clifts of Cunningsburgh) and that on the Sabbath
Day, that he would have got as many fish as he got, as if it had
been thro' Witchcraft. As Hary Sinclair, one of the Witnesses,
was absent, the Session Delay'd further proceedings till the
Witnesses are Examin'd, and therefore the Moderator Summon'd
all the parties to attend on the Session for this effect
next Preaching Sabbath. [The following Sunday, the 11th, the
Minister was absent at the north parish church at Sandwick,
but the next Sunday after, the 18th, was a 'preaching Sabbath,'
and the case was again called.] After Sermon, the two Witnesses,
George Brown and Hary Sinclair above mentioned, being
Call'd, Compear'd and Declar'd upon Oath, that Robert Sinclair
in Bigton was guilty of what was laid to his Charge by George
Halcrow as above, whereby he not only brought up a bad
Report upon his Neighbour, but Derogated from the honour
of God by ascribing the Catching of fish to the Devil, as if it
was in his pow'r to dispose of God's Creatures, which the
Session having maturely Consider'd, appointed the said Robert
Sinclair to be Rebuk'd publickly before the Congregation
next Preaching Sabbath and Summon'd him apud acta
accordingly. Clos'd with prayer.
1779, August 8. — Janet Stout, a poor Widow in Maills
was Charg'd as guilty of taking God's holy Name in Vain by
praying God to Damn a Dogg in her wrath — which she confess'd
before the Session, whereupon the Modr Rebuk'd her for
her wickedness and folly, Exhorted to a sincere and hearty
Repentance, and Summon'd her apud acta to appear the next
two Preaching Sabbaths, before the Congregation, to satisfy
Discipline for the Scandal. Clos'd with Prayer.
1792, October 14. — Henry Gilbertson in Scatnes being
Delated for Imprecating Damnation on Adam Barnson and
William Sinclair in Garth, when at sea fishing — these being
all Summon'd to this Diet and Compearing, — Henry Gilbertson
Confess'd the Imprecation forsd, but denied that he mentioned
the Name of God, and said also that Adam Barnson
had prayed that the Devil might break his Leggs, which he
did not Deny — for which Crimes being Rebuk'd etc. by the
Modr, they were both appointed to appear next Lord's Day
and be Repuk'd before the Congregation, and the fors'd
Henry Gilbertson to pay an half Crown fine to the poor.
Clos'd with Prayer.
1801, October 18. — Barbara Hay in Tolob being delated
as guilty of praying that God would send the Devil down
her Neighbours' throat, was attested by John Lesslie, an
Elder, and confessed: was Rebuk'd before the Congregation
and dismissed, paying an half Crown to the poor [£1, 10s.
1765, Jany. 27. — Adam Aiken and daughter Ann Aiken
being summon'd as guilty of Sabbath Breach, it was prov'd
against them by Peter Halcrow and Robt. Marwick, Witnesses,
that they Roll'd an half Barrel Tallow from the Banks on
the Sabbath Day Evening, which having given Scandal and
offence in the Neighbourhood, they were appointed to stand
and be Rebuk'd before the Congregation and pay a Shilling
of fine — which they refused to do. [Nothing more heard of
the case.]
1767, October 17. — John Nicol was excommunicated
according to appointment of the Presbytery, with the greater
sentence of Excommunication, after several years' continued
obstinacy, refusing to give obedience to discipline, or make
satisfaction for the scandal of the heinous crime of adultery
committed with Helen Roeman.
1800, June 8. — Similar sentence on a woman for continued
obstinacy to discipline.
1765, January 31. — The statement submitted by their
Treasurer to the Session this date shows —
Amount collected £28 6 0
Penalties and Mort Cloath 19 16 0
[About £4 stg.] £48 2 0 Scots
Disbursements [about £1, 2s. stg.] 13 0 0
Remains, £35 2 0 Scots
There are on the roll —
9 Extraordinary Poor, receiving £1, 10/ Scots, or 2/6d each.
11 Ordinary Do. " £1, 4/ " or 2/ "
4 Widows " £1, 16,/ " or 3/ "
and 6 other persons receiving trifling allowances.
Robert Omand, Precentor, receives £4 Scots, or say 6/8 stg.
Robert Ollason, Officer, " £3 " or " 5/ stg.
The Treasurer, " £2 " or " 3/6 stg.
At the same time 8s. stg. is allowed towards the expense of
burying an Orkneyman.
The next financial statement is submitted in the spring of
1766, and shows —
11 Ordinary Poor, advanced from £1, 4/ to £1, 16/ Scots
[=3s. each].
4 Widows, Do. " £1, 16/ to .£2, 8/ Scots
[=4s. each].
The Precentor, Do. " £4, to £4, 10/ Scots
[=7s. 6d.].
The Kirk Officer, £2, 2/ Scots [=3s. 6d.].
The Presbytery Clerk and Officer, £2, 6/8 Scots [=4s.].
For Summonses and 1 quire Paper to the Clerk, 1/2d Stg.
To William Stove in Garth to buy a Bible 1/10d Stg.
N.B. — The statement as to the Extraordinary Poor is
apparently not given.
A statement is again engrossed on October 2d of the
same year, and the next on February 11th, 1767, showing
that these statements did not apply to fixed uniform periods,
but were submitted periodically as circumstances rendered
convenient. According to the statement last referred to,
among the fines owing to the Session is one of £2, 8s. Scots
(=4s.) by 'Young Quendal,' who is more than once alluded
to in the Autobiography, and 'Lady Brew.'
A year elapses till the next statement is brought forward,
18th February 1768, giving 10 Extraordinary and 10
Ordinary paupers, receiving respectively 3s. and 2s. each,
besides a number of smaller donations to other persons.
But there is again a distribution in October; and another
in the month of February 1769, with again the lapse of a
year till 22d February 1770, the rates of distribution on each
occasion being about the same. In short, there is always a
statement submitted in Spring, in the months of February,
March, or April, with occasionally a half-yearly statement
in Autumn.
The following figures may be quoted from the Accounts
submitted on April 13, 1787, a year from the last previous
Statement of March 18, 1786:—
On hand at last Distribution £9 17 0
Collections £17, 4s. Fines £12 29 4 0
Mort cloth money 2 14 0
Donation from Oliver Smith 2 2 0
Poor Seats money as usual 0 18 0
Mr. Mill's Donation at this time 12 0 0
[£4, 14s. 7d. stg.] Scots. £56 15 0
5 Extraordinary Poor @ 12/ [1s. stg.] = £3 0 0
4 Widows. . @ 12/. . = 2 8 0
15 Ordinary Poor @ 18/ [1s. 6d. stg.] = 13 10 0
29 'Present Supplies' @ 12/. . = 17 8 0
1 Do. . @ 5/ = 0 5 0
To the Clerk [10s. stg.] 6 0 0
To the Officer [4s. 2d. stg.] 2 10 0
To the Clerk and Officer for paper [1s. stg.] 0 12 0
[£3, 16s. ld. stg.] Scots. £45 13 0
The Widows' Fund of the Brakes, the rent
whereof to be paid by Sumburgh for
Crop 1785, £7 Scots [=11s. 8d. stg.]
The usual positions of the Extraordinary and Ordinary
Poor are here reversed (perhaps by a clerical error), the Ordinary
receiving the higher suns of 1s. 6d. stg. and the Extraordinary
only 1s. The next year (April 3, 1788) the normal positions
are resumed, the Extraordinary poor being paid at the rate
of £1, 10s. Scots each, or 2s. 6d. stg., while the Ordinary receive
£1, 4s. or 2s. stg. only. The allowances were the same up to
the time of the last statement, in Mill's handwriting, of the
disbursements on behalf of the poor, April 9, 1801.
After the appointment of the new minister, the Rev.
John Duncan, in 1805, the financial statements are entered
in sterling money. In the account submitted on 21st April
1806, the Poor of the first class, of whom there are 14,
receive 2s. 6d. each; the second class, of whom there are 7,
receive 1s. 8d. each; and the third class, 20 in number, 1s. 3d.
each; with 4 widows on the Mortified Land, receiving 2s. 11d.
each (11s. 8d. in all from that source).
The last annual statement in the volume of the Session
Records under review was considered on 2d February 1841,
a date approaching the time when the new system, under
the Poor-Law Act, came into play. The number on the roll
was then 50, with allowances, varying according to circumstances,
of 1s. 6d., 2s. 6d., 3s., 3s. 6d., 5s., and 6s., the larger
sums being usually in cases where husband and wife jointly were
the recipients. The sources of income were the same as formerly,
viz. Ordinary and Sacramental Collections (£22, 10s. 10d.);
use of Mortcloth (6s.), and Rent of Mortified Lands (11s. 8d.).
Fines for irregularities in morals gradually disappear after
the commencement of the century, though inquisitions by the
Session in cases of such scandal continued for long afterwards,
in much the same way as formerly, but in greatly diminished
numbers. In the year 1834 a sum of £1, 10s. appears in the
accounts for a breach of the Sabbath, by a number of Scatness
and Exnaboe men, in taking ashore, at an early hour on the
Sabbath morning, some seamen's chests from Davis' Straits
whaling vessels apparently just arrived on the coast with
crews partly of Shetlanders. This was reckoned 'a very
great outrage and annoyance to the well disposed.'
In all these statements of parochial receipts and expenditure
the figures refer to the parish of Dunrossness proper, and not
to the parishes of Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, which were
united with it as one ministry, but whose statistics were
kept separately in the respective districts.
The sum charged for the expense of a pauper funeral
appears to have been, in 1778, 3 shillings. For the use of
the mortcloth, 6d. and upwards was charged.
1778, March 5. — The Session being Inform'd that the
friends of some poor that are on the Session funds did at
their decease carry off several things that belonged to them
which might have serv'd for funeral Charges: Therefore the
Session did and hereby ordains and appoints the Elders in
the Neighbourhood to certify the friends of such poor people
that if they [meddle?] in time Coming with any of their
effects till their funeral Charges are Cleared off, the Session
will not give one farthing for defraying their funeral Charges
after this date.
1793, July 7. — The Minister preached at Fair Isle (as
Brough, 1 the Proprietor, had sent out his Bigg Boat for
him), and where he continued for the space of two Weeks,
during which time he examined the Society's School, and all the
young people of the Isle upon the questions in the Assemblie's
Catechism, Baptized nine Children, ordained four Elders,
Rebuk'd and Dismiss'd two Delinquents, Preach'd two Sabbaths
before and afternoon, and Distributed what was Collected at
that time among the poor of Fairisle.
1798, March 11. — Malcom Halcrow, an Elder, had a son,
an extraordinary object of Charity, as a Bone was taken from
his Body and Represented to the Session — whereupon they
appointed £1, 10 and 6 pennies Scots [2s. 6d. stg.] to be given
[Same date.] It was represented to the Session that as all
the Necessaries of Life were risen so, and all the Fees of Clerk
and Officer were doubled through the Countrey, the Kirk Session
unanimously agreed to make for Proclamation of Marriage
Bans a shilling Sterling to the Clerk and 6 pence to the Officer,
as also 6 pence to the Clerk for each Baptism and 4 pence to
the officer in all time Coming thro' the Ministry.
1804, May 17. — Session met and constitute by Prayer.
Took into consideration the state of the poor, and their funds
1 Stewart of Brough in Orkney was then the proprietor of the 'Fair Isle.'
2 The years 1778, 1783, 1784, 1785, and other years, appear to have been
times of great scarcity, and large quantities of meal were sent to Shetland, some
for distribution, and finding by the failure of the two last
years' Crops 1 that it pleased God to put it in the hearts of
our Governors to send two ships of good Burthen loaded with
Victual etc. for supply of the poor; yet as the same could go
but a little way for supporting such a great number as the
Countrey contains, — Therefore as it has pleased a good and
gracious God, who mixeth mercy with judgement, to send such
seasonable and refreshing weather for nourishing the Seed
sown: Therefore the Kirk Session Resolved to expend what
money remained in their Treasurer's hands upon the most
necessitous of the poor who could neither work nor want,
among whom many small Children would be found, whose
parents at present were not in a capacity to maintain them:
Therefore the Moderator entrusted the Elders to make an
impartial enquiry into the state of families under their
inspection, and make a faithfull report that the distribution
may be ordered accordingly; and for furthering this good
design the Minister gave in to the Treasurer of his own
Bounty 20/ stg. to be added to the Stock remaining, and the
Session is to Consider the different necessities and distribute
accordingly. [This is followed by some details relating to the
Closed with prayer [in Mill's handwriting].
1804, Octr 7. — Government being Inform'd of the great
straits this Countrey was reduced [to] by the Defects of two
years Crops successively, was pleased to order frequent supplies,
and towards the end of Last Month, a vessel of 150 Tuns,
containing 180 Bolls of Barley and Oatmeal mix'd together
for supply of the poor, directed for the Collector of the
Customs, who met with some of the Principal Heads of
Families in Lerwick to consult upon the most proper mode
of Distribution and wrote a letter to me accordingly, whereupon
having call'd the Elders of this southmost part of the
of which came to Dunrossness, as is recorded in the Diary. The Minutes of
the Session 1782-1785 are lost, and this Minute is the first which deals so fully
with the circumstances of destitution.
The remainder of this long Minute after the word 'crops,' though
unquestionably drafted, or dictated, by Mill, is written out in another hand, as
being too laborious for the aged penman.
Ministry to meet at Skelberry, I read to them the Collector's
Letter which was to consider and agree upon the most
[needful?] objects entitled to this Charity, and upon due
Consideration we unanimously agreed to divide them into
Classes, Ordinary and Extraordinary, the Extraordinary such
as Could neither work or want. Other families had such as
Could work a little but could not maintain them, therefore
to get only one part of what the Extraordinary poor got.
Such as could afford a little money might have a Lispund of
the meal fors'd at 2 shillings sterling, upon delivery of the
money to the Clerk and receiving his Note for the same,
according to appointment of the Kirk-Session who were
accountable to Government for the same. And as this Parish
is double in number to the other Parishes, we appointed our
Treasurer to demand a 6th part of the Cargo, and our Clerk
to give an Extract of this Minute to the Precenter and
Clerk of Sandwick etc. that the Elders of Session there might
act according to the same plan of Distribution among the
poor, the which, with Fair isle, are about an equality of
number with this south part, and Consequently have an equal
Claim for one half as their proportion, and the Clerk was
likewise appointed to send an account of what was done to
the Collector of Customs at Lerwick.
Note. — In connection with the destitution in Shetland in the
year 1804, above reported and exemplified in the Kirk-Session
Records, it appears that a formal Petition on the subject was
sent up to Parliament from Shetland, a Report on which was
ordered to be printed on 29th March 1804. The following
is a copy:
The Committee to whom the Petition of the Owners
of Lands in the Islands of SHETLAND, for themselves
and on Behalf of the Heritors and Inhabitants
of the said Islands, was referred:—
Have, pursuant to the Order of the House, examined the
Matter of the said Petition: To prove the Allegations whereof,
MR. JOHN SCOTT, being examined, said, That he is a
Resident in the Island of Valey, about 20 Miles from Lerwick
— he was there during the last Season — that the last Harvest
was very unfavourable owing to bad Weather — that Seed
was imported from Berwick, and some from the North Country
also, but neither answered — that the Population of the
Shetland Islands is from 20 to 22,000 — that the Expence of
the Meal and Bear imported last Season amounted to more
than £30,000 — that the Harvest of 1802 was a very indifferent
one — that the Fishery affords a great Supply for the Islands,
and the fishery of 1802, as well as that of 1803, was unfavourable
— that the Inhabitants live on Oatmeal, Milk, and Fish —
that great quantities of Cattle were sold last year to purchase
Grain, whereby a great quantity of Land was laid waste on
account of the Cattle being so disposed of — that he only
knows of one Life being lost on account of Scarcity, but as
the Season advances the Scarcity will be more alarming —
that Seed will be wanted, and if not sent soon will be
too late to be sown for the Harvest — that the Seed is put
into the ground in April and May — that they have no
Barley, and they sow Bigg 1 in May — that if no Relief is
given many Lives will be lost — that the Relief afforded by
Government which arrived in the middle of January last
saved the lives of many persons — that he Contributed last
year Four years' Income to the Necessities of the Islands,
and that the Contributions of the Islands in general were
not less — that the Supply in 1784 was sent in Money, and
was of great service — that the Distresses now are much
greater than in 1784 — the People were then in a better
Condition, having had several good years; but by the great
Exertions made last year, on account of the Failure of the
Crop and Fishery, the Funds for their Relief are exhausted:
— And the Witness added, That the Seed Potatoes are very
scarce, and that if some were sent it would be of great
This cry of destitution was not silenced by the generous
aid of Government in the year 1804. It seems to have broken
out anew a few years later, as indeed it has done periodically
1 Bere.
since then down to very recent years. In the Estimates
and Accounts of Miscellaneous Services, issued from the
Treasury Chambers, Whitehall, 21st March 1814, the following
entry occurs:—
An Account of the Sum which will be wanted to defray
the Charge incurred in April 1813, in the Purchase of Grain
and Potatoes, conveyed to the Shetland Islands, for the Relief
of the distressed Inhabitants there.
One Thousand Nine Hundred and Eighty-seven Pounds
Eighteen Shillings and Two Pence:
Clear of Fees, and all other Deductions.
AT a meeting of the Presbytery of Zetland at Lerwick, 3rd
June 1737, on an application by the Rev. William Maxwell,
minister of Dunrossness, anent the ruinous state of the kirk at
Sandwick and the manse at Skelberry, it was resolved to hold
a meeting at the said Manse on the last Wednesday of the
month, and another at the kirk at Sandwick on the following
day, in order to determine what might be requisite in the
The Presbytery met on 29th June accordingly, at Skelberry:
present, Mr. William Archbald (minister of Unst) moderator,
Messrs. Robert Gray (minister of Nesting), James Grierson
(minister of Tingwall), Walter Hugens (minister of Sandsting
and Aithsting), Thomas Waldie (minister of Lerwick), William
Maxwell (minister of Dunrossness), and James Buchan (minister
of Walls and Sandness). The other members absent.
Mr. Maxwell, the minister of the parish, being interrogated
whether he was in possession of a glebe as Law requires,
answered 'that he was not in possession of any glebe; but, at
the same time, he was informed that there were ten merks
land in the room of Skelberry which are commonly reckoned
the glebe, which he had given the present tenants a legal
warning to flit and remove themselves from, notwithstanding of
which they still continue their possession; and at the same
time Mr. Maxwell informed the Presbytery that Robert
Sinclair of Quendale affirmed that although former ministers
had been in possession of foresail lands yet they had not
possessed them as a glebe, and that he and his predecessors
had paid feu and scatt for said lands.
'The Presbytery, taking the above affair into their consideration,
find that Mr. Walter Hugens [the previous minister
of the parish, now of Sandsting and Aithsting] had
obtained a Decreet of ejection and removing against Robert
Sinclair of Quendale, from the said lands, before Mr. John
Mitchell of Westshore, Stewart Depute of this Country, in the
year 1722, upon which he had entered into the peaceable possession
of the foresaid lands, and that he continued therein
during the whole time of his incumbency in the foresaid united
parishes [Dunrossness, Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh]: Considering
also that Mr. Maxwell is entitled by his presentation
to the glebe as possessed by Mr. Hugens, do therefore recommend
it to said Mr. Maxwell to pursue a removal against the
present possessors of the said lands before the Stewart or his
Depute, in order to his peaceable possession thereof.'
At the Kirk of Lerwick, June 7th 1739. After prayer.
Sederunt: Mr. William Archbald, Moderator pro
tempore, Messrs. Robert Gray, James Grierson,
William Maxwell, William Gifford (minister of
Northmavine), and James Williamson (apparently
an elder).
Mr. Maxwell the minister of Dunrossness again presented
a petition in reference to his stipend, in which the following
'He [Robert Sinclair of Quendale] also kept violent possession
of the ruinous manse, glebe, grass and pertinents thereof,
formerly possessed by the ministers of the said parish past
memory of man, and for which the former incumbent obtained
Decreet of removing against him and Hornings thereon, and
has uplifted three years' land mails and duties of the said glebe,
manse, and pertinents since the petitioner's admission to the
ministry of these parishes, whereby the petitioner has been put
to the trouble, first, of pursuing a removal against the said
Quendale's pretended tenants, occupiers of the glebe, and, after
obtaining decreet against them, to pursue anew, the following
year, a removing against the said Quendale, and for paying
back the three former years' mails which he has uplifted and
refuses to pay, denying the petitioner's incontestable right to
the said glebe in the process thereanent before the Stewart
Court of Zetland.'
In 1740 the question was brought before the General
Assembly, on a Petition and Complaint by Maxwell setting
forth the ruinous state of the kirk, want of manse, glebe and
grass, and non-payment of stipend.
Mr. Mill succeeded Mr. Maxwell in the incumbency of
Dunrossness, Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh, in 1743; and, as
is abundantly evident in the pages of the Diary, he too was
soon under the necessity of taking up the vexed question of the
glebe, its extent and boundaries. His views are expressed in
the following communication, which is apparently a mandate
to Sinclair of Quendale to represent him at a meeting, under
orders of the Sheriff-Substitute of Zetland, for the purpose
of dividing the Scattald, or Commonty, belonging to certain
DEAR SIR, — I, Mr. John Mill etc. understanding that the
Sheriff-Substitute has appointed a day towards the latter end
of this month of May 1753 for choosing 45 m … and 15 …
of the N . . according to Act of Parliament for dividing the
Commonty belonging to the lands of Skelberry, Outvoe, and
Boddom, and as I'll probably be obliged to repair to Fair
Isle before that time, and therefore can't attend that meeting,
Hereby Commissions, empowers and warrants you, John
Sinclair of Quendal, to act in my name Conform to the following
Impr. That the Commonty from the Mills of Troswick to
the green road on the east side of Skelberry, and from said road
running in a straight line by the large grey stone which goes
above the minister's sink to the stripe which separates Skelberry
and Scousburgh punds, be divided into 8 parts, 3 whereof to
Quendal in proportion to his lands, and the other 5 equally
divided betwixt Sumburgh and the minister in proportion to
their 10 merks each. As also that the punds of Foggrafield,
Bremer, Symragarth, Dalster, and all that shall be found
improved and taken off the said Commonty be likewise divided
according to the former proportions, and, as it will be no loss
to any concerned, that the minister may, for conveniency sake,
have his share of said lands, after valuation, adjacent to the
glebe lands.
2do That the Commonty adjoining the dykes of Skelberry
immediately and so upwards to the grey stone above mentioned,
and reaching from the said green road to the stripe of Scousburgh
beyond the minister's sink, together with the whole
Room of Skelberry lands, moss, grass, meadows etc. be divided
equally conform to the 20 merks land of Skelberry, 2 whereof
only belongs to Sumburgh, and therefore he has a right to the
10th part of said moss, muir, and meadows and no more;
Quendal 4-10ths. and the minister 5 do. in proportion to each
one's property of said lands; and the moss called the minister's
sink was never questioned as his property.
3tio As, by consent of parties, there was an excambion
already made by honest men chosen in hunc effectu and for
conveniency of the minister his manse and yard etc. therefore
desires the same may be continued state quo without division,
the rest being planked according to the quality as well quantity
may be all distinctly marked according to the nature of each,
and the choice of each person's share accordingly may be
delayed till the minister return, if the Lord will, as no damage
hereby can ensue to either party.
4to That if any step is taken contrary to the above Instructions,
and prejudicial to the interest and property of the
present incumbent or successors in office, which I should look
upon, if designedly made, as a piece of sacrilege, and consequently
an attack upon Christianity itself, as whoever detracts
from the subsistence of a Gospel minister would root out the
Gospel of Christ itself were it in their power, and therefore
hereby further enjoins you in my name to protest and take
Instruments accordingly, that nothing be done in my absence
prejudicial to the just rights of the present minister and his
successors in office, and Herein you'll oblige etc. etc.
Three years after the date (1753) of these instructions the
question of the settlement of the glebe boundaries seems to have
been no further advanced, as appears from the following proceedings
before the Presbytery of Zetland in 1756.
At Lerwick, 16th June 1756, Mill gave in to the Presbytery
a Representation and Petition, the tenor whereof
follows: —
Unto the Reverend the Moderator and the remanent
members of the Presbytery of Zetland, The Representation
and Petition of Mr. John Mill, Minister
of the Gospel at Dunrossness, Humbly sheweth,
That whereas the Glebe lands belonging to the minister of
Dunrossness lie blended with the property lands of other
heritors (commonly called Rig and Rendal 1), and as the town 2
of Skelberry where the Glebe lands of ten merks lie, scatts 3
with Outvoe and Boddam, containing in whole 32 merks land
only, whereof 12 merks belong to Quendale's estate, and consequently
his share of the pasture, muir and privileges is but
as 12 to 32, so that the minister draws nigh a third share, yet
true and of verity it is that Robert Sinclair of Quendale did
set in tenants upon several places of the said pasture without
so much as asking the concurrence of the minister as usual in
such cases, whereby five punds 4 (as they are called) are taken
off the privileges of Skelberry, viz. two punds adjoining to the
dykes of said town eastward, called Colapund or Foggrafield, 5
set at the rate of 14 pound yearly rent Scots; a third pund at
Sumragarth, a fourth at Dalsetter, and a fifth at Troswick,
each at the rate of Three pounds Scots per annum, in all 23
pounds Scots of yearly rent, according to best information.
Moreover, the tenants on Quendale's estate from Laigh Ness,
and several from other places, are casting up said pastures
every year, insomuch that, by encroachments of punds and
1 Rig and Rendal: equivalent to run-rig. Apparently the closest approximation
to rendal, in the northern tongues, is in the Swedish Ren, 'unploughed
border of a field,' and Del, 'share,' 'division.
2 Town: i.e. tún or township, village lands.
3 Scatts: i.e. possesses mutual Scattald or Commonty.
4 Punds: parks or enclosures surrounded by stone or turf dyke. Anglo--
Saxon pynd, to enclose.
5 Foggrafield: Norse fager, fair.
delvings, the minister is like to be cut out of his privileges of
moss and muir if a speedy stop is not put to their career.
Besides, John Bruce Stewart of Symbister and Bigton 1 has
lately set up marches of his own accord on the west part of the
town of Skelberry and pastures thereof, taking possession about
the same time of part of the Glebe lands without any proper
legal warrant, and as the confused way of Rig and Rendal is
attended with many great inconveniences as occasioning disputes
with neighbours about grass and corns, marring of
improvements, and exposed to continual encroachments
especially in a time of vacancy whereby both land and pasture
may be further wasted, as are actually done already, in a great
measure, especially the pasture where numbers of people claim
the same privileges with the minister, until a division is made,
on all which accounts your petitioner Humbly craves the
Reverend Presbytery would be pleased to gratify him with a
visitation of said land and pasture of Skelberry that the
boundaries thereof may be ascertained according to use and
wont as shall appear to the Reverend Presbytery by honest
Knowing sworn men, and that he may have his just proportion
of said lands and pasture together with the lands taken off
said pasture by past rent due since the same was debted, That
the Presbytery's decreet may pass accordingly, ingrossed in the
Presbytery records in futuram memoriam, and craving the
Lords of Session's authority may be interponed in hunc effectu,
and your petitioner shall ever pray etc. Given at Lerwick
this 16th day June 1756 years by sic subr. JOHN MILL.
At Skelberry, the 7th day of September 1756 years; After
prayer. Sederunt: Mr. Thomas Miller, Moderator,
pro tempore. Messrs. William Mitchell and Francis
Gilbert, ministers. The said Mr. Mitchell was
chosen clerk pro tempore.
This being the day appointed for the visitation of the
Glebe of Dunrossness, grass, and pertinents, in order to
1 John Bruce, afterwards of Symbister, obtained the estate of Bigton in
Dunrossness, and took the additional surname of Stewart, on his marriage to
Clementina Stewart, heiress of Bigton.
consider encroachments, Mill brought in the following honest
men as evidence of the Bounds of Skelberry etc., to wit,
George Burgess, James Leslie and Gilbert Irvine, tenants in
Clumley, Andrew Harper, Andrew Charleson and John
Shewan, tenants in Skelberry, Alexander Cheyne, tenant in
Lunabister, John Shewan in Troswick, and Robert Marshall
in Dalster, who being proposed to the said John Morrison,
[acting for John Bruce Stewart of Bigton] and he declaring
he had no objections against any of them, were solemnly
sworn. Thereafter Robert Scott of Scotshall, an heritor of said
parish, having come up to the Presbytery, went along with
them, together with John Morrison and the witnesses, to inspect
the Boundaries foresaid, which being done and the Witnesses
severally called into the Presbytery, they deponed as follows:—
GEORGE BURGESS, aged seventy-six years, married, purged
of malice and partial counsel, solemnly sworn and interrogate
depones as follows: Primo. As to the Boundaries of Skelberry
within the old Dykes. That said Dykes run from the mouth
of the Burn called Hogard to the Sandy Slap 1 northward,
and from thence north east, and from thence north west
across the Burn to the house of Durigarth, and then north
east to the Burn again, including all the land lying betwixt
said Dyke and said Burn called old Durigarth. Being
asked whether or not he ever heard or knew of anybody
that ever laboured said ground betwixt said Dyke and Burn
besides the people of Skelberry? answered negatively. Depones
also that the said old Dykes run from the Burn at the Water
Slap eastward, including Reswick and Collapund, to the ruins
of an old house sometime possessed by Charles Williamson,
and from thence to the southward including that piece of
ground commonly called the North Meadow, where it joins
the east Burn, and runs down said Burn to the place called
the hole of Clowell where it crosses said Burn eastward,
and incloses that piece of ground called Voesgarth, and from
thence westward inclosing the south meadow and new pond
until it join the Dyke at the mouth of the Burn Hogard
mentioned above at the north side of the Loch. Secundo.
1 Slap: a breach in a dyke to admit of persons passing through.
As to the boundaries of the Scattald of Skelberry, Outvoe and
Boddam, Depones that they run from the west water Slap
along the old mark of the Burn northward through the town
of Bremer, and from the upper Dyke of said town at a place
a little to the westward of that, where the Burn presently
enters, which seems to be the old entry of said Burn, to
two Standing Stones in a line to the stone by east the
Bleat, as he hears, and from thence eastward to the north
Stony Pund to two tuicks 1 on the height by east the Loch
of Wadslay 2 to a march stone near the Dyke of John
Shewan's pund to another march stone at the old Mill of
Troswick within said Pund, and from thence southward and
along the old Dykes of Troswick to the Law Dyke, and along
said Law Dyke through the town of Dalsetter till you come
to the Burn running eastward to the town of Outvoe to the
sea immediately to the westward of Keotha's pund, and that
the Scattald runs along the Dykes of Outvoe, Boddom, and
the old Dykes of Sumragarth to the joining of Brew's Dyke
to the westward till it ends at the mouth of the Burn of
Hog ard. Tertio. Being asked if he knew of any punds taken
off the above Scattald? answered that John Shewan's pund was
taken off, and Robert Marshall's pund, and the potatoe pund
of Sumragarth, Andrew Charleson's pund, and John Shewan's
pund commonly called Fografield: Causa scientiæ petit, that
he has lived in the neighbourhood all his days, Declares he
cannot write, and that is truth, as he shall answer to
Sic subr. THO. MILLER, Modr. p. t.
It is not necessary to continue the depositions of other
witnesses, which are much to the same effect. One of them,
Robert Marshall, states that he 'laboured Old Durigarth, and
brought in the proportion of the crop thereof 3 to the Rev.
1 Apparently a variation of the Shetland term Toog, a small hillock with a
tuft of grass: a diminutive of Danish tue, a hillock (Edmondston).
2 Now usually spelt Vatchly, i.e. Vatz-ly, the watery place, a very accurate
3 Proportion of the crop: i.e. the 'teind sheaves,' etc.
Mr. James Key, the first minister of the place after the
Revolution; 1 that he pays three pounds Scots money for the
pund at Dalsetter taken off the Scattald, and that his son
pays the like sum for the potatoe pund at Sumragarth also
taken off the Scattald foresail.'
The Presbytery having considered the above evidences
Find the Bounds of the Town of Skelberry, one half whereof
belongs to the minister as his glebe, to be within Dykes
ascertained as in the first deposition, and that there have
been encroachments made upon the Scattald or freedom of
peat muir and pasture etc. within Dykes of Skelberry, Outvoe
and Boddom, the third part whereof almost belongs to the
minister, by taking in of the punds of Troswick, Dalsetter,
Sumragarth, and Fografield, and part of Bremer not yet
rentalled, paying £23 12/ Scots money, of which the minister's
proportion is as Ten to Thirty-two, but all paid at present to
the Factor on Quendale's sequestrated estate, and no part to
the minister notwithstanding of his claim to a share thereof.
Therefore the Presbytery did and hereby do Humbly beseech the
Right Honourable the Lords of Council and Session would be
pleased to interpone their authority, not only for the minister
of Dunrossness and his successors in office their peaceable
possession in time coming of the glebe pasture and peat muir,
with their just proportion of the Rents and profits of the
punds or outbreaks above mentioned which were taken off from
the said Scattald by Robert Sinclair of Quendale and claimed
as a part of his estates, But also for redress of what loss Mr.
John Mill, the present Incumbent, hath already sustained by
the said encroachments on his glebe, pasture and others above
mentioned, as accords of the Law, to prevent all such injurious
and illegal practices in time coming.
1 James Kay, A.M. Translated from Kirkwall 2nd Charge. Admitted in
1682. He petitioned the General Assembly, with five others, in January 1698,
that he might be received into Communion ; and having disclaimed Episcopacy,
and stated he never had any hand in the late persecutions, he was received 23rd
June following; died 15th September 1716, in the 36th year of his ministry.
— (Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ.
At a meeting of the Presbytery of Zetland, at Lerwick,
the 2nd March 1763, a Petition was again presented by Mr.
Mill on the subject of these encroachments, no effectual remedy
having apparently been provided. He recapitulates the
grievances complained of in his Petition of June 1756, and
the evidence thereof placed before the Presbytery at the
meeting on the spot in September of that year, all as above
narrated. He then proceeds:—
This being a part of the Church's patrimony 'tis hoped the
Presbytery will please recommend this affair also to the ensuing
General Assembly to employ their Procurator and Agent to
defend their own property out of the public funds. And as
the foresaid Robert Sinclair of Quendale out of pretence of
being Vicar, 1 and paying the minister's stipend, withdrew the
Vicar days' works 2 payed to the ministers for leading their
peats, a privilege which all the ministers of the country are
still possessed of, and have been time immemorial. As the
Factors appointed by the Lords on the sequestrated estate of
Quendale claim three days' works to which the minister has a
preferable title 'tis hoped this grievance will be recommended
also for redress, and also for having my glebe lands set apart
and separate from others, which at present, by a confused
mixture of what they call Rig and Rendal, or Run-rig, mars
improvements, and occasions much strife and wickedness ……
To put an effectual stop to such encroachments is of the
utmost consequence to prevent delapidations for the future and
especially in remote parts of the Kingdom, otherwise wicked
men may be emboldened to seize them piece meal till they
leave the ministers little or nothing … Given at Lerwick
the 2nd day of March 1763 years.
Sic subr. JOHN MILL.
The Presbytery agreed to 'warmly recommend' the Petition
to the General Assembly. It is not germane to the purposes
of this volume to follow the course of proceedings in this
matter before the Assembly. It may only be mentioned
1 Vicar: that is, holding Assignation to the Vicarage dues.
2 Days' works: days' labour due by tenants.
that at a meeting of the Presbytery at Lerwick on the 14th
March the following year (1764) a Representation on the subject
was again presented by Mill, in which it was stated that
Mr. Buchan, minister at Walls, had been instructed to report
the matter to the Assembly, by whom it had been referred
to the Procurator of the Church to examine and submit his
views to the next Assembly. The complaint goes on to allege
that … 'John Bruce Stewart of Symbister and Bigton has
had the assurance since my last Representation to the Presbytery
to send his factor and officer with a considerable number of his
tenants to cut and destroy my peats after they were casten,
and thereafter causing his tenants likewise cut a deep trench,
and build a dyke hard by it upon the privileges of my glebe
that thereby he might appropriate some of the pastures and
moors for behoof of his tenants, against which violent intrusion
and encroachments I entered two protests before Witnesses.'
He therefore craves that the General Assembly should be
urged to institute a process of redress before the Lords of
Session, especially as the estate of Quendale was to be exposed
for sale on the 5th of August ensuing, Robert Sinclair of
Quendale being still living.
The Presbytery, on 13th March 1765, granted commission
to Mill himself to represent the matter to the General
Assembly, which he did, but, as it would appear from the
narrative in the Diary, with little or no practical success.
With this the vexatious question of the encroachments upon
the glebe lands seems to terminate.
JOHN MILL. 1793.
NAME AND SITUATION. — Dunrossness means the hill of the
promontory of Ross. 1 This parish is on the southern extremity
of Zetland. It is a peninsula washed by the sea on three sides,
and is comparatively the most fertile district in the Zetland
Isles. Two other parishes are united with Dunrossness, under
the charge of the same minister. These are Sandwick, which
means the Sandy-bay; and Cunningsburgh, the same name
with Koningsberg, which, in the Norse or Scandinavian language
means Kingsburgh.
SOIL, AIR, AND PRODUCE. — The soil in the arable parts of
the parish is various. In some places sandy; in others loam
and clay. Considerable tracks are of moss, and consequently
of little value. The air is moist in a great degree, but by
no means unhealthy. Many of the people live to a great age
— some to 100 years and upwards. The hills in this parish
are green, and the land for the most part firm. By these
circumstances it is rendered more valuable, as well as a more
agreeable residence than the black 2 mountains and morasses
to the north. The arable grounds are chiefly by the sea shore,
1 It really means the Ness, or promontory, of the Raust, a strong tideway
well known to mariners.
2 Black: bleak?
and on the margins of the creeks, which on all sides run up
into the country. On these grounds barley 1 and oats are
raised; large fields of potatoes are also planted, which are of
great benefit to this country. Cabbages, turnips, carrots, and
other kitchen stuffs, are to be found in the gardens of the
Zetlanders, in the same abundance as on the Continent of
Scotland. No grass seeds are sown in this parish; but it is
remarkable, that on the sandy grounds, when properly protected
from cattle, natural crops of clover and ryegrass
spring as richly as on the sown fields in other parts of the
kingdom. No trees are to be seen in this region, excepting a
few shrubby, roan trees, and willows in the more sheltered
valleys. The spray of the sea, which is blown over the whole
country by the westerly winds, forms a natural obstacle to
the success of plantations. The force and duration of the
tempests from the west are among the most striking features
of a Zetland winter; and if to these are added the thunder
and lightening which often occur in that season, it will
appear, that the Zetlanders have their share of the inclemency
of the heavens, although they have less of frost and snow than
the inhabitants of wider Countries.
MINERALS. — There are many mineral springs in this parish,
as in other districts of Zetland, which bear the appearance
of iron ore. Near the island of Whalsey, which lies to the
eastward, mariners have observed, that the Compass reels,
and cannot fix as usual to a point, which is believed to be
owing to the attraction of iron mines in that place. In the
years 1789 and 1790 Zetland was visited by some gentlemen
from London, who found on the estate of Quendal a rich
iron mine; and in various parts of the islands, the ores of
copper, lead, and iron, samples of which were carried to
London, particularly of copper, in considerable quantity. 2
AGRICULTURE, CATTLE, AND SHEEP. — The lands are reckoned
by a peculiar measurement, by what are called merks-land.
Each merk-land ought to contain 1600 square fathoms.
To each one cow is allotted; and the parish contains 2000
1 Barley: i.e. the native Bere. 2 See Diary, 1790.
of these merk-lands, and consequently as many cows. In
Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, the farmers plough chiefly with
oxen, and at Ness with horses; 4 oxen or 4 horses in a plough,
which go all abreast; but the ground is chiefly laboured
with spades of a light kind; with these, 5 or 6 men and
women will turn over as much land in a day as a Scotch
plough with 8 or 10 oxen. The oxen, with the young cattle,
are about 1000. The parish of Dunrossness, having more
arable, and less pasture ground than the neighbouring parishes,
the number of sheep is, of course, smaller than in the other
districts. It was, however, considerable, till within these few
years; a large English scabbed ram was imported into this
district, which infected the flock to which he was brought,
and the infection has spread among the sheep through the
whole parish, notwithstanding every precaution and effort of
the farmers to prevent it. In consequence of this unhappy circumstance,
the whole number of sheep in the united parishes
of Dunrossness, Sandwick, and Cunningsburgh, does not now
exceed 5000.
BIRDS. — Eagles, hawks, ravens, etc. are so numerous, as
to make havock of the lambs and poultry, insomuch that the
Commissioners of Supply give a Crown for every eagle that is
destroyed. Swans in great numbers resort to this parish in
October and November, and remain about the lochs of Skelberry
and Scousburgh during the winter. In the end of
April, or beginning of May, they migrate to Norway, where
their young are hatched. The ember goose, as it is here
called, is a bird larger than the tame goose; has a long
bill, and doleful cry; it seldom leaves the sea — its legs are
so short that it can hardly walk. Of ducks there are various
species, which resort to the lochs above mentioned. Besides
the wild duck, are scale drakes, 1 equal to the wild duck in
size; the points of their bills turn up a little; they are of
a beautiful brown colour, and hatch their young in rabbit--
holes. There is a large species called the stock-duck, and
smaller species called teales and attiles. Sea birds of various
1 Scale-drake: Query, Sheldrake?
kinds abound, several species of which become white in winter.
There are also here in their season, the lapwing, the grey and
yellow plover, and the night-rail.
FISH. — The lakes already mentioned produce considerable
quantities of trouts of a large size, which resemble grilses, or
young salmon, and abundance of large eels. At sea, the
fishes most usually caught, are ling, cod, tusk and seth; these
last are taken in the tideways, and chiefly at the southern
extremity of the parish; few of these are sold in Zetland,
either fresh or dry salted; they are sent to Hamburgh or
Leith, or where the best markets can be found. For the use
of the inhabitants, the fishers take abundance of turbot,
skate, small cod, haddocks, whitings, herrings, mackarels,
flounders, etc. particularly in the spring season. The fish,
butter, and oil, sent to the Hamburgh market, yield a return
to Zetland of wines, spirits, tea, coffee, sugar, tobacco, linen,
hooks, lines, etc. The rocks on the coast produce abundance
of lobsters, crabs, oysters, etc.
POPULATION. — In the three united parishes, in 1755,
the number of families was 451; of souls, according to Dr.
Webster's list, 2295, besides the Fair Isle, which had about
200. In 1770, the families, including Fair Isle, were 561;
the inhabitants, 2942. In 1790, the families, including Fair
Isle, were 570; and the inhabitants 3327. The number of
females greatly exceeds the males, as the young men leave
the country in numbers every year; being commonly inclined
to a sea-faring life, they resort to England and Holland, but
chiefly to London, where they serve on board the navy,
merchant ships, or Greenlanders. The annual number of
marriages depends much on the seasons: In good years they
may amount to 30 or upwards; but when the crops fail,
will hardly come up to the half of that number.
CHURCH AND POOR. — A handsome church, with a pavilion
roof, 1 covered with Easdale slate, was built a few years ago at
Dunrossness. There is another Church for the districts of
1 The parish church, as it has long stood, has gables carried up to the ridge
of the roof.
Sandwick and Cunningsburgh, whither the minister goes to
officiate every third Sunday. That Church has a Kirk-Session
of its own, and ought to form a separate parochial Charge,
if there were funds sufficient for the support of a minister.
The united parishes altogether form what is termed a
ministry; and this ministry is 12 miles in length, and in some
places 6 miles broad. The Stipend is 1000 merks Scotch
(£55, 11s. 3d. sterling), and 50 merks (£2, 15s. 7½d.) for
Communion elements. The whole people are members of the
established Church. The presbytery of Zetland is not subject
to the jurisdiction of any provincial Synod, but depends
immediately on the General Assembly.
The poor are supported by weekly collections, and the
fines levied from delinquents; the distribution is made by the
Kirk-sessions. The number of poor was small, and some
little stock was happily accumulated previous to the year
1782, when a scene of misfortunes opened upon Zetland, which
made it necessary to give away both stock and income. For
5 years successively, beginning with 1782, the crops almost
wholly failed, and above 100 poor persons came upon the
sessions of this ministry. No country in the world can bear
a failure of crop better than Zetland, if the sea continues to
render its supplies, particularly when the small fry of Seth
or cole fish fill the bays in their usual abundance; but from
1781 to 1787, the sea, as well as the land, withheld its usual.
products. These circumstances were attended with a great
murrain and mortality among the sheep and cattle. In this
situation, the people owed their relief to the bounty of
Government. Vessels, loaded with provisions, arrived seasonably
from England; and it was understood in this country
that the supplies were hastened by the anxious sympathy
of our gracious Queen. In the event, no person died of
the shore in great plenty, shaped like a man's hand, and
called by the people Trowis Gloves. 1 There are no beacons
1 Trow's Gloves: i.e. gloves of 'Trows' — fairies, mermaids.
or lighthouses on the coast. 1 The principal creeks are
Quendal Bay, Grutness, and West Voes, which lie on each
side of Sumburgh Head, separated by a neck of land. In
Lerwick 2 Sound, ships anchor and ride securely, as they do
also in Aithsvoe of Cunningsburgh. On the Fair Isle in this
ministry, the flag ship of the Spanish Armada was wrecked
in 1588; and the Duke of Medina Celi 3 resided for some time
in the house of Quendal.
There are no manufactures here, unless for domestic use,
viz., blankets and coarse cloth, excepting, perhaps, some
stockings, gloves, and garters, sold to the Dutch fishers. A
linen manufacture was attempted here some years ago by the
gentlemen of the country, and a considerable sum of money
was expended, but the adventure came to nothing: For its
failure two reasons may be assigned. The want of a professional
owner, to combine his interest and skill in the management;
and the choice of the spot, which was inconvenient.
The fittest place for works belonging to this manufacture
would be the Loch of Sound near Lerwick, where there is
a regular resort from all parts. — The prices of provisions are
greatly raised within these 30 or 40 years. A fat ox or cow
was then 30/, now it is £3, 10/ and other provisions in proportion.
Butter, from 4/ is now 7/ or 8/ per 30 lb. weight.
The proprietors, in letting their lands, proportion the extent
of farms to the number of persons in a family. Thus two
merks-land is usually let to a man and wife at first; but, as the
family increases, they may have 3 or 4 merks-land. The great
object is to set out as many boats as possible to the fishing,
as, through this medium, the rents are paid. Hence the price
of land on sale in this country is higher in proportion to
the rent than almost anywhere else. The estate of Sumburgh, 4
to the surprise of the gentlemen of Edinburgh, was bought
1 There is now a lighthouse on Sumburgh Head, erected in 1821.
2 Lerwick: a mistake for Levenwick.
3 The shipwrecked officer was not the Duke of Medina Sidonia, Commander--
in-Chief of the Armada, but Juan Gomez de Medina, Admiral of a division
consisting of about twenty ships.
4 The estate of Quendale, sold for behoof of creditors, is meant.
at 52 years purchase: It was a good bargain, not because
the rents were low, but from the mode in which they are paid.
The rents of this country are chiefly paid out of the sea.
The tenants have from their landlords threepence allowed
for a ling, a penny for a cod or tusk, and a half-penny for
a seth (cole fish); and these, when salted and dried, will,
in the Hamburgh market, yield four or five times as much,
besides debentures 1 from Government. Add to this, double
or triple the prime cost for goods brought back and sold to
the people, viz., linen, tobacco, spirits, hooks, lines, etc. —
There are three sorts of boats used in the fishing trade, a
larger and a smaller size of 6-oared boats, and 4-oared boats.
In all, there are about 200 boats through this ministry.
Some brigs have formerly belonged to owners in this district,
the last of which was captured by the French. Of late, a
small sloop that goes upon the fishing, and to different parts
of the country, was built by one Robert Thompson, a native
of Fair Isle, and who was for several years a Schoolmaster
there, under the Society for propagating Christian Knowledge.
He is now a farmer and mariner, an excellent cooper, a
wright and mason, by the force of a mechanical genius, without
having ever been an apprentice to any of these professions.
His sloop was built from the keel, and completely rigged and
equipped by himself. One of the principal means of improvement
to this country would be good roads, as, at present,
no cart or carriage whatever can be used for the transport
of goods on the soft surface of the country, particularly to
the northward. Two roads are specially needed, viz., from
Lerwick to Scalloway, the two principal towns of Zetland,
the distance is only 4 miles; and from Lerwick through
Tingwall parish to the parish of Delton, and thence to Yell
Sound, through the very heart of the country, which is not
above 12 miles; but in some places, the peat moss is so deep as
to be impassable on horseback. Another great improvement
on the state of this country would be a better division of
the small farms, which are parcelled out in discontiguous
plots and run-rigg, termed here rigg and rendal; even the
1 Debentures: i.e. bounties.
inconsiderable merk-lands, lying scattered in several patches,
intermixed with patches possessed by other people. This
unaccountable arrangement produces endless quarrels and
vexations among neighbours, on account of trespasses which
must unavoidably occur almost daily while the fields remain
thus interwoven.
1567. The parish of Dunrossness, with Sandwick and
Cunningsburgh, was supplied by JOHN CRAB,
Reader, from 1567 till his death in November
1571. JOHN KINGSTONE or KINGSTOUN, entered in November
to the united parishes. Stipend xl merks
(£2, 12s. 6d.); removed to Sandwick prior to
1575. MALCOLM SINCLAIR, Reader, was presented to the
Vicarage by James VI. 29th December; continued
in 1601.
1610. LAURANCE SINCLAIR, Vicar and Titular. He was
Reader from 1576 to 1580.
1640. NICOL. QUHYTE (or WHYTE), A.M. (University of
1662. JAMES FORBES, A.M. (University of St. Andrews).
1682. JAMES KAY, A.M. Translated from Kirkwall 2d
charge; admitted 1682.
1720. WALTER HUGENS, A.M. (University of Edinburgh).
Presented by the Earl of Morton 1717, and
ordained in the Kirkyard of Sandwick 4th Aug.
1720. Translated to Sandsting and Aithsting
1735. WILLIAM MAXWELL, A.M. (Glasgow). Was six
years in South Carolina before being presented
to the parish. Translated to Rutherglen 1742.
1743. JOHN MILL. Author of the DIARY, and of other
writings described in this volume. Died 13th
February 1805.
1805. JOHN DUNCAN, native of parish of Cruden, Aberdeenshire.
Drowned in the Doris on her passage to
Shetland, 22d Feb. 1813.
1813. JAMES DENOON, A.M., from Inverness-shire. Graduate
of University of Aberdeen. Translated to the
parish of Kingarth in Bute 1822.
1822. THOMAS BARCLAY, A.M. (Aberdeen). Son of the
Rev. James Barclay, Unst. Translated to Lerwick
1827; admitted at Peterculter 1843, at Currie
1844, and was finally appointed Principal of the
University of Glasgow 1858.
1828. DAVID THOMSON. Translated from Walls and Sandness.
Died 5th Oct. 1841, in the 83d year of
his age.
1574. JOHN KINGSTON. Removed from Dunrossness, Fairyle,
Braza, and Burra also in Charge, with lxxx. li.
(£6, 13s. 4d.) of stipend.
1580. ADAM MUDY. Translated from Walls and Flotta
in Orkney, having also the charge of Balista and
Crosskirk of Dunrossness. (This combination
of the Crosskirk with Balista, presumably Baliasta
in the island of Unst, is not easily explained. The
two places are situated at the extreme opposite
points of the country, south and north.)
1585. LAURENCE SINCLARE. Reader at Dunrossness, etc.,
from 1576 to 1580; continued in 1586.
1588. LAURENCE YOUNG. Exhorter at Rousay, Egilsey,
Wyir, and Enhallow in Orkney, from 1574 to
1594; continued in 1591. He appears also as
Reader at the Kirk of Westray.
1593. LAURENCE SINCLARE, resumed prior to 1593; continued
in 1608.
At this time the church was suppressed, and the parish
was united to Dunrossness. It was eventually erected into
a Parliamentary church, and declared a quoad sacra parish
in terms of the Act of Assembly of 25th May 1833.
1830. ALEXANDER STARK, A.M. Ordained in 1808 as
minister of the Old Light or Original Burgher
Congregation at Falkirk. Presented to this charge
and re-ordained 17th Sept. 1830. Joined the Free
Church and ceased to be minister of the Church
of Scotland in 1843.
The church here seems to have been suppressed at the
Reformation, but it was standing for at least half a century
later. Its degradation and falling into ruin are referred to
in the INTRODUCTION, under the head of CHURCHES AND CHURCH
1. Cross Kirk, Dunrossness — St. Matthew; replaced by the
modern church near Brew.
2. The 'North Kirk,' Sandwick — St. Magnus.
3. Church of the Fair Isle — dedication unknown.
The following sites of ancient churches:—
4. Cunningsburgh, at Mealsair — St. Colme, or St. Paul (?).
5. St. Ninian's Isle — St. Ninian.
6. Ireland (i.e. Eyrr-land) — dedication unknown.
7. Levenwick — St. Levan?
8. Clumlie — St. Columba?
The evidences for the dedications assigned to the above
Churches are explained in the INTRODUCTION.
Churches or Chapels recently erected:—
9. Dunrossness — Baptist.
10. Do. — Methodist (2).
11. Do. — Free Church of Scotland.
12. Sandwick — Congregational.
13. Do. — Methodist (2).
14. Cunningsburgh — Free Church of Scotland.
15. Fair Isle — Methodist.
From the Register of Ministers and thair Stipends sen
the yeir of God, 1567. 1
Dunrosness, Cannisburgh, Sandwik and Fair Isle — being
Johne Crab reidar xx li. 2 deid November 1571, — in his rowme
Johnn Kingsone minister. xl merkis 3 sen November 1571.
From the Register of Ministers and Readers in the Book of the
Assignation of Stipends (1574).
Sandwick, Dunrosness, Fair Yle, Braza, Burra — Johne
Kingstoun, minister £80 [Scots]. — (vacant) reidare at
Dunrosness, Cunnesbourg, and Fair Yle, £13, 6s. 8d. [Scots].
From the Buik of Assignationis of the Ministeris and
Reidaris Stipendis (1576).
Cunisburgh Malcolm Sinclair his stipend the
haill Vicarage of Dunrosnes, quhair-into
he is newlie providit extending
to 80l. he payand the reidare at
thir Kirkis.
Croce Kirk
Fair Isle Laurance Sinclair reidare at thir
Kirkis his Stipend xx li to be pait be
the new providit Vicar.
1 Printed in the Miscellany of the Wodrow Society, vol. i. Edinburgh: 1844.
2 The pound Scots was of varying value, decreasing latterly to 1s. 8d. stg.
3 The merk Scots has usually the value assigned to it of is. 1⅓d. stg. In
the Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ this 40 merks stipend is set down as £2, 12s. 6d stg.
To the Commissionaire of Zetland,' inter alia, is assigned
at this time —
The thrid of the Croce Stouke of Dunrosnes, vj li. xiij s̃
iiij d. and furthe of the bischopis umbothis of Zetland
the rest, and for payment thereof vj barrellis.
c. 1610.
From The Just Rentelis of the Benefices callit the Vicarages wt
the Number of the Kirkis pertening thairto as thay have
beine of old and as thay are now callit in Prebentis, by the
Rev. James Pitcairne, c. 1610. 1
St Matthew
St Magnus
St Colme
The kirk off
the Fair Yle In primis the Vicarage of Dunrosnes in
Corne teynd nyne peise ilk peise calculat
to twenty pundis the bowteind 2
communibus annis foure barrell butter
the bot [boat] teind fyfe gudlingis wt
halff lamb halff woll the other halff of
lamb and woll usurpit and taken up
be my Lord Orknay sine titulo bothe
heir and frome the rest of the Vicarages
within the Cuntrie notwithstanding
that the haill woll and lamb
perteins to the Vicar properlie. The
Vicarage has thrie Kirkis in the maine
of the Cuntrie of Zetland and the
fount in the Fairyle. The Vicarage
is set be Lawrence Sinclar Vicar and
titular thairof to Malcome Sinclar of
Quendell for sax scoir pundis. It hes
ane manse and glebe.
1 Printed by the Editor in vol. xviii. of the Proceedings of the Society of
Antiquaries of Scotland, 1884.
2 Bowteind: teind of cattle. The word (Icelandic bu) still lingers in theScottish
term Steelbow.
From List of Parishes in Scotland briefly described. MS.
Advocates' Library, volume 35. 3. 11, bearing a marginal
date 1739, but probably of earlier date.
Dunrossness properly so called has a Church called the
Cross Kirk 2 miles north from Sumburgh head, and the Minrs
Gleib is att Skelberry 2 miles north from the Kirk, and 6
miles S.S.W. from Sandwick Kirk. it is ten merle land of
Danish extent worth only per annum 44 lib. Scots. The
Stipend is 800 merks [say £44, 10s. stg.].
From the Account of the Parish of Dunrossness by the Rev.
John Mill, in Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account of
Scotland, vol. vii. (1793).
The Stipend is 1000 marks Scotch (£55, 11s. 3d. sterling), 1
and 50 merks (£2, 15s. 7½d.) for Communion elements.
From the Appendix to the General View of the Agriculture of
the Shetland Islands, by John Shirreff. Edinburgh, 1814.
The Stipend £120, paid in money by the heritors, in which
case they receive the teinds from the tenants.
[Up to this time, and for some time later, the teinds were
taken up from the tenants in kind, e.g. the tenth sheaf of corn,
etc. etc. — Ed.]
From the New Statistical Account of Scotland. Parish of
Dunrossness, by the Rev. David Thomson.
The Stipend, by decreet of Valuation, is £200, besides a
sum for Communion elements; and the Glebe is reckoned
1 This statement of the value of the stipend is confirmed in a letter to the
Editor, dated 22d March 1880, from the late Mr. Bruce of Sumburgh, whose
grandfather, probably the largest heritor of the parish at the time, paid the
largest portion of it.
good, the soil being of excellent quality; it contains 13 acres
of arable ground, and 14 or 15 acres of meadow; but the
pasture is not valuable.
From The Year-Book of the Church of Scotland.
Stipend £262, with Manse [and Glebe].
IT so happened one day south in the Dunrossness sea 2 in
Hjaltland 3 that an old and poor country man (bóndi) was
waiting long for his boatmen, while all the other boats that
were ready rowed off. Then came a man with a white cowl to
the old country man, and asked him why he did not row off to
the fishing as the other men did. The country man replied
that his mates had not come. 'Bondi,' said the man of the
cowl, 'would you like me to row with you?' 'That will I,'
says the country man, 'but I must have a share for my boat,
for I have many children (bairns) at home, and I must work
for them as much as I can.' So they rowed out in front of
Dynraust-head 4 and inside Hundholm. 5 There was a great
stream of tide where they were, and great whirling eddies; and
they were to keep in the eddy, but to fish outside the raust. 6
1 The word in the original Icelandic for the Dunrossness 'man' is bóndi, the
common term in the Scandinavian north for husbandman, land-cultivator,
yeoman, i.e. the ordinary farmer of the north, who at the same time derived a
portion of his sustenance from the sea, as he still does in Iceland, Faroe, and the
Scottish Isles. The term lingered in Orkney and Shetland until comparatively
recently. In the present translation, 'country man' is used as perhaps the
simplest equivalent. The proper place for the story is in the Orkneyinga Saga,
but it does not appear in the English version of that Saga (Edinburgh, 1873),
not having been brought to light at the time of its publication.
2 Literally Dynraust-ness Voe.
3 Hjaltland: the old Northern form of Shetland.
4 Dynraust-head: i.e. Sumburgh Head.
5 Hundholm: i.e. Dogholm. The name has disappeared.
6 The Raust of Sumburgh, still so called, a fierce tideway, but a favourite
The cowl-man sat in the front part of the boat and pulled, 1 and
the country man was to fish. The country man bade him take
care not to be borne into the raust; and he said that he was
quite alive to the danger. But the cowl-man did not attend
to what he said to him, and did not take care though the
country man should come into some danger. So a little after
[this] they bore into the raust, and the country man was much
frightened, and said, 'Miserable was I and unlucky when I
took thee to-day to row, for here I must die, and my folk are
at home helpless and in poverty if I am lost.' And the country
man was so frightened that he wept (grét) and feared his end
was come. The cowl-man answered, 'Be cheery, man, and
don't cry, for we must find our way out of the raust as we got
into it.' Then the cowl-man rowed out of the raust, and the
country man was very glad. Then they rowed to the land, and
pulled up the boat. And the country man bade the cowl-man
to go and part the fish. But the cowl-man bade the country
man part it as he liked, and said he would have no more than
his third. There were many people come to the shore, both
men and women, and a number of poor folk. The cowl-man
gave to the poor men all the fish that had fallen to his share
that day, and prepared to go on his way. At that place the
way was up a cliff, and a number of women were sitting there.
As he went up the cliff he slipped his foot, for it was slippery
with rain, and fell down the cliff. A woman saw that first, and
laughed much at him, and then so did the other folk. And
when the cowl-man heard that, said he:—
The girl mocks my dress,
And laughs more than becomes a maid.
I put to sea early this morning;
Few would know an earl in a fisher's weeds.
Then the cowl-man went his way, and afterwards men became
aware that this cowl-man had been Earl Rognvald. And it
thereafter became known to many men, that these were great
1 The term in the original is andæfdi, most accurately expressed by the
identical Shetland word 'andowed' (pulled leisurely about).
tricks of his, creditable before God, and interesting to men.
And men knew it for a proverb, as it stood in the stanza,
'Few know an earl in fisher's weeds,'
(Translated from the Old Northern version of the story
in An Icelandic Prose Reader. Oxford. 1879.)
I CAN hear of no Battels fought in this place; only here
(as in other places) they have not wanted Feuds, which have
occasioned some skirmishes. One in the reign of Queen Mary
between Oliver Sinclair of Brow in this parish and Hutchen of
the Lews, the occasion whereof was this. William of the Lews
having married an Heretrix in this Countrey, Oliver Sinclair
being Foud or Governour of the Countrey, feared lest William
[Macleod] of ye Lews being a great man should possibly have
opposed him; therefore he concluded to make him away, to
which he was not a little instigated by his wife. And because
he could not avowedly effectuate his murderous design, he
resolves at length upon this expedient, that he would go, and,
in show of friendship, visit him, which done, under pretext of
intimate comradship, he would exchange pages with him. In
the meantime he had conduced his page, thus exchanged, to
kill him, which he did that same night. In revenge of whose
death Hutchen of the Lews, brother to the deceased William,
made several inroads into this Countrey; but his people here
having advertisment given them by some of the inhabitants of
the Fair Isle quhom they had conduced to that purpose, for
the first two attempts he prevailed not. But the third time
he overtook the Fair Isle boat before she landed, and put the
Boatmen to the edge of the Sword. Which done, he landed at
Gairth Banks without opposition, and made a great slaughter,
especially about Quendale, a quarter of a mile from Brow,
where in one morning fell above sixty souls. But Oliver himself
fled to Soumburghhead, where being hotly pursued he leapt over,
but eventually falling upon a bit of green in the clift of a rock,
he escaped without more prejudice but the loss of an eye, and
Hutchen is by Queen Mary commanded back.
Not long after this happened another between Henry Sinclair
of Sandwick and Henry Dillidasse, occasioned by some
little prejudice done in the House of Brow to the servant of
Henry Sinclair. In revenge whereof, being instigated by his
wife, Henry Sinclair conduced his man to stab Richard Leask,
son-in-law to Oliver Sinclair of Brow, which he did as he was
entering the door of the Church, and so he died. Henry Dillidasse,
son in law to the deceased Richard, being in Orkney at
the time, and hearing of the Murder, went over to Caithness,
and assembled some of his Friends to revenge his Father in law's
death, with whom he came over to Zetland. But Henry Sinclair,
with some of his friends and followers, being fled north
the length of Laxfoord, he pursued after them, and they not
advertised of his arrival were returning southward. So they
met upon a Moor between Laxfoord and Lerwick, where at
first meeting Henry Dillidasse desired them to surrender the
Murderer, on whom he might inflict condign punishment for
his crime, promising that upon so doing there should be
nothing but peace and friendship betwixt them: which the
other refusing to do, they prepared for a skirmish, in which
Henry Dillidasse slew the murderer with the shot of a Pistol,
and the rest were forced to flight. Henry Sinclair himself
narrowly escaped, and one Sinclair of Burra swimmed over to
Trondra, near a mile of sea. In this skirmish several fell on
both sides.
(From 'A Description of Dunrossness, by Mr. James
Kay, Minister thereof,' part of A General Description
of ye Countrey of Zetland, by M.T.V., a
manuscript Volume, No. 13. 2. 8, in the Advocates'
Library. Kay was minister of the parish from
1682 to 1716.)
The Court of the prochin of Dunrosness haldin be
Mr Jhone Dischingtoun at Soundbrughe the fyve day
of August 1602 the suitis callit the court lawfullie
fenceit the essejs 1 chosin sworne and admittit.
The namis of the essejs.
William Bruce of Simbuster
Malcum in Culbinsgarthe
Jhone Newein of Skowsbrughe
Androw Smithe in Sand
* Hew Halcro
Ollaw [in] Howland
Earik in gord
* Malcum Halcro in Hoiswik
* James in Fladabuster
Magnus in Channerwik
Magnus [in] Lewanwik in Netherbie
* Magnus in Troswik
* William Crewkschankis
Lowrence Leisk in Scathes
Magnus in gord in Hilwall
James Barnetsoun and Adame Cromertie bayth provin in
the foldis 2 buikis 3 to have disobeyit to gang to my lordis wark 4
* The persons marked *, summoned apparently against their will, were
adjudged the following day to a fine of ten pounds (Scots) each, for non-compearance.

1 Essejs: esseys: assize.
2 Fold: i.e. Foud, or Fowde. The Great Fowde of Shetland was the chief
judge and representative of government in the Islands (Norse Foged).
3 Buikis: books.
4 My lordis wark: the building of the Castle of Scalloway, to which they
were obliged to repair, without meat, drink, or pay. The castle is now a ruin.
in Scallowy as they wer decernit. Theirfoir ilk ane of them ar
decernit to pay for disobedience xl s.
Jhone parkie for disobeying the fold in nocht entering in
Adam [of] Browis semis as he wes commandit, Thairfoir is
decernit to pay for disobedience iiij markis, under the paine of
Airthour Cowpland, Dauid Sinclair and Magnus Fidlair for
disobeying the foldis dwme 1 in non payment to him of certaine
leispundis 2 of comprysit Corne as thay wer dempt, Thairfoir
ilk ane of thame ar decernit to pay ane dwmra 3 under the
paine of poynding.
Jhone in Ringesta, Thomas [in] Lophill, Catherein Cumming
and Olaw in Lie for breaking the foldis dwme in non
releifeing of James Hea [Hay] at the handis of Edame Sinclair
of Brow anent certaine comprysit barrell of Corne, as thay wer
dempt, Therfoir ilk ane of them ar decernit to pay ane dwmra
wnder the paine of poynding.
William Werk and William Lowttit for gripping of the
nes of Excanabe 4 by5 the leif of the awner, ilk persone to pay
xl s. for gripstair, 6 wnder the paine of poynding and sicklyk
inhibeitis all personis that thay nawayis scheir diffettis 7 therinto
fra thes furthe without leif of the awner, ilk persoun to
pay x li.
Magnus and Alexander Fidleris for breking of the foldis
dwme in nonpayment of ther dettis to Jhone Scott as thay
were dempt, Therfoir decernis ilk ane of them to pay ane
dwmra wnder the paine of poynding.
Jhone Gibsoun and Hendrie Waltersoun for citing of the
girss 8 of Francie Stokis iiij merk land in Excanabe by the
foldis dwme is decernit to pay betuix them ane dwmra wilder
the paine of poynding.
Ollaw [in] Quendaile has failyeit quittance of non delyverie
of his motheris guidis and gere to Lowrence in Garth as he wes
1 Dwme: doom.
2 Leispund: a weight containing originally 12, but latterly 18 lbs. Scots
3 Dwmra, or Domera, a fine. 4 Nes of Excanabe: Ness of Exnaboe.
5 By: without. 6 Gripstair: gripping.
7 Scheir diffetis: cut divots. 8 Girss: grass.
dempt Therfoir is decernit to pay j dowmra wnder the paine
of poynding.
Jhone Sinclair Officiare in Garth is dempt to quyt 1 his
guddis 2 of the eiting of his nychtbouris Coirnis and twergordis 3
and that with the laryt aithe 4 and in caise he quyt the haill
nichtbouris of Garthe to pay to the King ane dwmra, and to
wpmak the skaytht of the girss to the saide Jhone be the sycht
of nychtbouris wnder the paine of poynding.
Thomas [in] Lophill for disobedience of the foldis dwme in
non payment of certaine dettis restand 5 to Thomas Barnesoun
as he wes dempt and therfoir is decernit to pay ane dwmra
wnder the paine of poynding.
Airthour in Skelberie is fand to have grippit wrangouslie
ane half of ane rigg of Thomas Blackbeirdis lyand in Skelberrie
and therfoir is decernit to pay for gripstair xl s. to the King,
and to restoir the half of the rigg againe to the said Thomas
with the haill crope and byrun profettis thairof by the sycht of
nychtbouris and siclyk ordainis the haill land in Skelberrie of
the King Kirk and Wyell 6 to be pairtit be the fold, and sax
honest nychtbouris and ilk awner to be possest with thair awin
pairt according to use of nychtbourheid.
It is fund that Magnus in Skerpagarthe and Dauid Lesleis
dogis 7 wes fund sleand 8 ane scheip of Malcum of Cobinsgarthe
and this by and attour 9 aucht scheip alledgit slain of the said
Malcumis of befoir Thairfoir ilk ane of them ar decernit for
keiping of unlawfull dogis to pay xl s. and ordainis them to
quit ther dogis of the slauchter of the said audit scheip and
theirwith the laryt aithe and falyeing thairof to pay ij merkis
and to opmak the skaitht to the awner, be the sick of nychtbouris,
and in to slay ther doggis.
Anent the accusation of Thomas Antensoun for the stowcht 10
1 Quyt: acquit. 2 Guddis: goods, i.e. cattle.
3 Twergordis: meaning uncertain.
4 Laryt aithe: the oath of the Lawrightman, an official appointed in every
parish to guard the rights of the people. 5 Restand: remaining due.
6 Wyell: probably Weall, i.e. the commonwealth, lay owners.
7 Dogis: dogs. 8 Sleand: slaying.
9 By and attour: besides. 10 Stowcht or stowtht: stealth, stealing.
of ane lamb of Nicole in Culzeasetteris quhairof he failyeit
quittance as also the twelter ayt 1 of befoir Compeiris the said
Thomas and passed fra the regour of law and submittit him
selff in the jugis will thairfoir.
Yung Gilbert in Skelberrie for non payment of corne mendis 2
to Thomas Blackbeird as he wes dempt is decernit to pay ane
dwmra wnder the paine of poynding.
The haill tennentis fra Daill to the schoir syd ar dempt to
quyt them selffis and thair howssis of stowcht of Alexander
Smythis fische and corne stollin fra him this last winter and
that with the laryt aithe failyeing thairof ilk persoun to pay
ii merkis and to wnderly the law therfoir as stowcht.
[Margin] All quyte be Sandie Smyth awner of the skeo3
vpoun they greit aithes, except Airthour Cowpland and his
William Ballentyne hes dwm lawit with Jhone Sinclair
officiare as for himselff and in name and behalff of the rest of
the inhabitantis of the parochin of Dunrosnes within quhat
day thay sall pay ther haill dettis restis and wthir thingis
restand to him the yeir he wes Chalmerlaine of Zeitland quhilk
the juge and the essys fand ressounable and ordanit thame and
ewerie ane of tham to enter ane Compt rakning and payment
with him and quhat beis fund restand to him ather be confessioun
or probatioun to mak payment thairof to him within
terme of law, ilk persoun wnder the paine of ane dowmra.
Ollaw [in] Nos, Nicole thair, Magnus in Nos, Magnus yunger
in Nos, Gilbert in Brek, Inggrahame Sinclair in Toun, Thomas
Beirnis yunger, William Beirnstoun, James Beirnstoun, Robert
Linklett, Mareoun Tulloche, Ollaw [in] Quendaile, James in Lud,
Magnus in Gord, Jhone in Gord, Ollaw Sinclair in Gershous,
Thomas Bairnsoun and Rinyean Archebald, for breking the
foldis dwme in nocht bigging up the haifiers 4 dyk with the
gudis thairof as thay wes dempt. Thairfoir ilk ane of them
1 Twelter ayt: twelfter oath, i.e. the oath of twelve reputable neighbours,
compurgators, testifying to innocence.
2 Mendis: this term seems equivalent to compensation, fine, payment
3 Skeo: an open-built hut, or house, for drying.
4 Haifiers: half-ers, i.e. joint.
ar decernit to pay thairfoir ane dwmra, and to big vp the dyk
foirsaid within the space of audit dayis wilder the paine foirsaid.
Lowrence [in] Fugtoun for breaking of the foldis dwme
in non payment of the come mendis to Magnus Grige as he wes
dempt and thairfoir to pay ane dwmra wnder the paine of
Anent the accusatioun of James Kintoir in Dunrosnes for
sclander and ewill speiche calling Patrik Kinnaird merchand
ane brokkar and ane fals knawe Compeiris the said James in
jugement and confest that he had ovirseine himselff in his yre
and wraithe aganis the said Patrik in speiking outtragious
werdis aganis him for the quhilk he craivit the said Patrik in
jugement pardoun for his offence, and in the meintyme gaife
that he knew nathing to him bot guid and honestie nocht the
les the said James for his sclanderous speiche quhilk could
nocht be provin aganis the said Patrik, decernis him to pay iiii
merk to the King and iiii merk to the pairtie and absoluis the
said Patrik of all cryme or penaltie quhilk can be laid to his
cherge thairanent, and ordanis that nane repruife him thairfoir
fra this furthe ilk persoun wnder the paine of xl li.
Proceidis at Soundbrughe the saxt day of August 1602.
Hew Halcro, James in Fladabuster, Malcum Halcro in Hoisweik,
Magnus in Troisweik and William Crewkschanke for non
cuming to the Court this day as thay wer commandit ilk persoun
is decernit to pay x li wnder the paine of poynding.
William Vork is tryit to hawe complenit in the foldis Court
upon certaine sclander spoken aganis him be Thomas Mainsoun
and now in this Court hes compeirit and denyis the samyn,
quhairbe it appeiris that it is concertit betwix them Thairfoir
the said William to pay viii merkis thairfoir to
the King wnder the paine of poynding.
The quhilk day compeirit Dauid Reid and desyrit the juge
and the essyssis testimoniall gife Magnus Flett and Gellis
Keillo wes lawfullie mareit or nocht, and gife Francis Flett
wes laufullie gottin vpoun the said Gelis be the said Magnus
or nocht. Vnto the quhilk the haile essyes anserit that they
knew the saidis persounis to be laufullie mareit and that the
said Francis is thair laufull begotten sone. Vpoun the quhilk
the said Dauid askit act of Court.
William Wirk and Thomas in Vestano 1 ar decernit to quite
them selffis of trubling 2 of wtheris witht the laryt aithe, and
failyeing thairof to pay ii merkis wnder the paine of poynding.
Mareoun Tulloch is dempt to quyt hir selff of ane peice
pellok 3 seine at the bankis and of the speiking thairof to Mans
Magnussonn and that with the laryt aithe, and failyeing thairof
to pay ii merkis and to wnderlye the law therfoir as stowtht.
Herman Sueman dutche man at Alixfuird 4 for bleiding of
Mareoun ollaws dochter abone the end 5 within hir avin hemefrie
6 is decernit to pay twys xl s. wnder the paine of poynding.
Bessie Lews is dempt to quite hir selff of the bleiding of
Mareoun sinclair abone the end and that with the laryt aithe
and failyeing therof to pay xl s. wnder the paine of poynding.

The quhilk day annent the actioun and clame of ten angel
nobillis 7 persewit be Lowrence tulloche in Skeldberrie in north
mawing 8 aganis Dinneis sueman dutche man of brahame 9 quha
is outreikitt be Zanie Himmel quha wes air 10 to wmquhill Court
mair dutche man Compeiris the said Lowrence and produceit
ane obligatioun maid be the said wmquhill Court mair to
wmquhill Dauid tulloche and his relict vidow Gotherone and
him vpoun the saidis ten angellis in anno 78 yeiris 11 Subscryvit
with the said Court mairis avin hand wretin in Dens 12 compeirit
the said Dinneis and alledgit that he knew nocht thairof nor
yitt is decernit to pay the samyn. Nochtheles becais the said
Lowrence gave his aithe in Jugement that nayther he nor nane
of his ressaiveit ony pairt of the said summe and that the said
Dwneis is outreikit be the said Zanie quha is air to the said
1 Vestano: now known as Vestanore, Cunningsburgh.
2 Trubling: molesting. 3 Pellok: porpoise (?).
4. Trafficking Dutchmen seem to have been well known in the district.
5 Abone the end: meaning obscure. ' Above the ene' (eyes) seems a more
natural reading, but the MS. will not permit such a variation.
6 Hemefrie: house, home.
7 Angel noble: a gold coin (10s. sterling).
8 North mawing: the parish of Northmavine.
9 Brahame: Bremen. 10 Air: heir.
11 78 yeiris: i.e. 1578. 12 Dens: Danish or Norse.
Court Thairfoir the Juge and the essys decernis the said Zanie
as air foirsaid and the said Dunneis quhom he hes outreikit to
mak payment thairof to the said Lowrence within xv dayis
tender the paine of poynding Reseruing actioun to the said
Duneis to call Garthe himmel for his warrand as law leiwis.
Gilbert sinclair elder in Skeldberrie is dempt to quite him
self of the bleiding of his yungest brother Gilbert Sinclair
above the end and that with the Laryt aithe and failyeing
thairof to pay xl s. wnder the paine of poynding.
The quhilk day Lowrence Sinclair of Gott and Jhone Newen
of Scowsbrughe becumis actit cautioneris ilk ane of them for
thair avin pairtis for the entrie of Dauid Leslie to compeir
befoir my lord and his deputis at Skalloway bankis the secund
or thrid dayis of the Lating Court 1 nixtocum To wnderly the
law for airt and pairt and furnesar of frances Sinclair eftir the
murthour of wmquhill Mathow Sinclair of Nes wnder the paine
of jc lib. [i.e. 100 pounds]. Lyk as the said Dauid bindis and
obleissis him his landis guidis and gere to releife his cautioneris
The quhilk day William bruce of Simbuster becumis actit
cautioun for the entrie of Adame Sinclair of brow To compeir
befoir my Lord and his deputis at Skalloway bankis the
second or thrid dayis of the Lating court nixtocum In maner
foirsaid and this for obedience of my Lordis precept execut be
Jhone hecfuird wnder the paine of jc lic Lyk as the said
Adame bindis and obleissis him his landis guidis and gere to
releife his cautioner foirsaid.
Malcum Sinclair of Quendaile becumis actit cautioner for
the entrie of Lowrence Sinclair of Gott according to my Lordis
precept lykwyis execut be Jhone hecfuird To the Lating
nixt in maner foirsaid wnder the paine of jc li. and siclyk for the
entrie of Androw nicolsoun wnder the paine of xl li. Lykas
the said Lowrence and Androw bindis and obleiss thame ther
lands guidis and gere to releife thair cautioner foirsaid.
It is tryit and fund that Thomas grig and Lowrence
Sinclair hes trublit and domiraxterit wtheris and thairfoir ilk
1 Lating Court: the Lawting Court, the chief Court of Shetland, the shadow
of the ancient ALTHING.
ane of them ar decernit to pay ij merkis wnder the paine of
Jirga bege is dempt to quite hir selff of the bleiding of
Annie Williams dochter abone the end and failyeing thairof to
pay xls under the paine of poynding.
James Vrowing 1 for bleiding of Jhone Leisk vpoun the
cheik to pay iiij merkis wnder the paine of poynding.
Adame Cromertie for gripstair of elspett rettrayis muck 2
and bleiding of hir thairfoir is decernit to pay twys xls under
the paine of poynding.
Henrie Jamisoun for bleiding of Jamis Mansoun beneth
the end is decernit to pay iiij merkis to the King wnder the
paine of poynding.
Giffin vp in dittay that Mairiorie Sinclair the guidwyff of
Lie wantit ane gwis 3 and that scho sould have skuildit 4
Lowrence Sinclair of Gottis hous thairfor quhairin the essys
takand tryall and finding nather liklines nor probatioun thairinto;
Obsoluis the said Lowrence and his hous for ony thing
knawin as yitt And ordanis that nane repruife him thairfor fra
this furthe ilk persoun wnder the payn of xi li.
William in burrowland is dempt to quyt him selff and his
hous of the stowtht of ane pullit gwis fund in his peit stak and
that with the laryt aithe and failyeing thairof to pay ij merkis
to the King and to underly the law thairfor as stowtht.
[Margin] Quite be Malcum halcro and Walter Leisk vpoun
thair aithis.
Tryit that earling Jamesoun for bleiding of Mareoun
Manis dochter vpoun the hand thairfor is decernit to pay iiij
merkis selver under the paine of poynding.
Jonat Airchbald for giffing ane blea 5 to Mareoun tulloche
to pay j merle under the paine of poynding.
Jonat Archbald is dempt to quite hir selff with the saxter
aithe 6 for the turning of ane siff 7 and riddill for ane pair
scheiris 8 quhilk wes tane fra hir guidman and failyeing thairof
1 Vrowing: Irving or Irvine. 2 Seizing of manure.
3 Gwis: goose. 4 Skuildit: suspected, charged. 5 Blea: blow.
6 Saxter aithe: the oath, in testimony of innocence, of six honest neighbours.
7 Siff: sieve. Turning the sieve and riddle: practising sorcery or divination.
8 Scheiris: scissors.
to pay sax merkis and to underley the law thairfoir as Witchcraft.

William and Lowrence Rendaillis ilk ane for trubling
bleiding and domiraxtering wtheris ar decernit ilkane of
them to pay iiij merkis under the paine of poynding.
Grigerous in Lie and Mareoun patersone ilkane sclanderit
wtheris and thairfoir ilkane of them ar decernit to pay iiij
merkis to the King and to tak thee mendis is thair avin
handis becais thay sclanderit wther alyk wnder the paine of
Jhone in ringyista for sclandering of Catherein Linklett
of harlettrie without ony probatioun and thairfoir decernis
him to pay iiij merk to the King wnder the paine of
Airthour Sinclair of Aithe actis him self for the entrie of
Gilbert [in] Futtoun befoir my Lord and his deputis at Skalloway
bankis the thrid or feird 1 dayis of the Lating Court
nixtocum, To wnderly the law for the slachter of Jhone
Ollawsoun wnder the paine of xl li.
Hendrie Waltersoun for fyve blea straikis giffin to Annie
Androws dochter is decernit to pay v merk selver and for
bleiding of hir to pay iiij merkis under the paine of poynding.
Proceidis vpoun the sewnit day of August 1602.
Margret thomson is fund to haive stollin sum fische of
herman Suemanis and thairfoir becaus it is said to be the first
falt decernis hir to pay iiij merkis under the pane of poynding.
Ollaw Sutherland and hendrie Sinclair ilkane for trubling
wther is decernit to pay iiii merk under the paine of poynding.
Jonat porteous for twa straikis giffin be hir to Mareoun
Thomas dochter is decernit to pay ij merkis under the paine of
It is tryit that Magnus Melling hes trublit Magnus Cowpland
ane frie Cowpastay 2 is decernit to pay xls. under the paine
of poynding.
1 Feird: fourth.
2 Frie Cowpastay: meaning uncertain.
It is fund that Stewin 1 Lowtit hes bled Alexr butter vpoun
the Sabothe day in thomas sinclairis hows and thairfoir is
decernit to pay thrys xls wnder the paine of poynding.
James broun for giffing ane straik with his steikit neff 2 to
Hendrie Sinclair is decernit to pay j merk silver under the paine
of poynding.
Lowrence and Jhone rendailes for the trubling of Jhone
Scottis hous is decernit to pay twys xls and for calling Jhone
Scottis wyff ane harlott is decernit ilk ane to pay iiij merk to
the King and iiij merk to the partie.
It is fund that nicole in Culyesetter hes done wrang in
bigging ane pwnd 3 vpoun the boundis of Howlland viasetter
and cumlawik without leife of Malcum Sinclair and his
pairtineris awneris of the grund Thairfoir it is statut that the
said nicole nor na wther sall big na pwndis nor keip na pastorage
within the saidis boundis without tollerance and licence of
the awiner thairof under the paine of xl
Nicole [in] Culyesetter is dempt to quite himselff of the
turning of sieve and the scheiris and that with the saxter aithe
and failyeing thairof to pay vj merkis and to wnderly the law
thairfoir as witchcraft.
It is statute and ordanit that na peittis fra this furthe
salbe cassia 4 within the ness of excanabœ nones 5 and Scatnes
without leife of the awneris of the grund ilk persoun wnder the
paine of x lib. als oft as thay salbe fund to contraweine.
It is tryit that Wm Crewkschank bled robert hodge abone
the end Thairfoir is decernit to pay xls wnder the paine of
Mareoun thomas dochter is dempt to quite hir selff of the
bleiding of Mareoun Mowat beneth the end and that with the
laryt aithe And failyeing thairof to pay iiij merkis wnder the
paine of poynding.
It is tryit that James broun hes giffin hendrie Waltersoun
ane newell 6 and thairfoir is decernit to pay j merk silwer wnder
the paine of poynding.
1 Stewin: Stephen. 2 Steikit neff: closed fist.
3 Pund: a park enclosed by a dyke. 4 Cassin: cast, i.e. cut.
5 Nones: i.e. Noness. 6 Newell: or Nevell, a blow with the fist.
Adame Cromertie and James barnatsoun ar tryit to be
commoun pykaris 1 and theifeis of corne timmer heiring
peitis claithe and wther thingis qualefeit in dittay againis
ather of them in this court besydis sindrie wther crymis
and poyntis of thift tryit aganis them of befoir quhairof
thay failyeit quittance of befoir. Quhilk being considderit
be the Juge and the essys ordanis thair haill guidis and
gere and landis gife ony be to be escheit and thame selffis
to be baneist the contrie to norroway in the first passage
at the leist within the space of ane moneth and giwe thay
be apprehendit with the walour of ane uiris thift 2 heirefter
to be tane and hangit be the crage quhill thay die in exempill
of wtheris.
It is tryit that James browne hes callit elspett [in] bw ane
theife and ane harlott and thairfoir decernit to pay viij merk
to the king and viij merk to the pairtie And becaus the said
James gawe his aithe in Jugement that he knew nathing to the
said elspett bot guid and honestie Thairfoir obsolwis hir
thairof for ony thing knawin as yitt and ordanis that nane
repruife hir thairfor fra this furth ilk persoun wnder the paine
of xx lib.
The quhilk day Malcum Sinclair of Quendaile becumis actit
cautioner for the entrie of Wm fermour befor my lord and his
deputis at Skalloway bankis the secund or thrid dayis of the
Lating court nixtocum To wnderly the law as airt and pairt
and furnesar of frances Sinclair efter the murthour of umquhill
Mathow Sinclair wnder the paine of jc li. lyk as the said Wm
bindis and obleisis him his guidis and gere to releife his said
The quhilk day William Bruce of Simbuster becumis actit
cautioner for the entrie of Garthe Heinlein 3 befoir my Lord
and his deputis at Skalloway bankis the secund or thrid dayis
of the Lating Court nixtocum To wnderly the law as airt and
1 Pykaris: pilferers.
2 Ane uiris thift: a theft of the value of an ure (Danish and Norwegian
3 Geert Hemelingk: or 'Garthe Hemlein,' as here termed, whose connection
with the Earl of Bothwell is mentioned in a footnote in the Introduction.
pairt of the slachter of Mathow Sinclair, under the paine of jc
lib. lyk as the said Garthe bindis and obleissis him to releife his
cautioner forsaid.
(From the original Records of the Sheriff and Lawting
Courts of Shetland, in the General Register House,
ON 28th March 1592, Earl Patrick by 'Charter and Infeftment
of few ferme' set to William Bruce, 'of Symbestar' in
the island of Whalsey, the '20 merk land 6 pennies the merk
of Soundburgh [Sumburgh] callit Kingis Landis,' 1 and the
'4 merk land 6 pennies the merk callit Provestis landis
lyand rynrig with the said 20 merk land of Soundburgh,'
and also the 20 merk land of Scathes, with all pertinents,
as fully described in that Charter.
In 1604, by a contract between the Earl and Bruce,
the parties made an Excambion of lands, the Earl taking
possession anew of Sumburgh and others, and Bruce resuming
from him the lands of Sandwick, etc., with a proper accounting
for the 'ky oxne horss and scheip' stock upon these
different lands, etc. etc.
On 11th November 1605, a fresh contract was entered
into between the parties, signed at 'the Cannogait' of Edinburgh,
whereby the last named agreement of excambion
1 These 'Provestis Landis,' consisting of only 4 merks, lying intermixed
('runrig') with the 20 merks of 'King's land' of Sumburgh, belonged originally
to the Provost of the Dom-Kirk, or Cathedral, of Bergen in Norway. Their
subsequent transfer to Captain Laurence Middleton, a Shetland proprietor, for
1050 rix-dollars, under distinct provision for redemption, the confirmation of
this transaction by King Frederick the Third of Denmark and Norway, by deed
of 28th August 1662, still preserved at Sumburgh, and their conveyance by
Middleton, on 16th February 1663, to William Bruce of Sumburgh, are fully
related by the Editor in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,
December 8, 1879, vol. xiv. p. 13.
was annulled, and the parties were reinstated as before under
the contract of 1592.
This final contract of 1605 is a lengthy document, but
may be abbreviated, preserving all essentials, and to a large
extent the original spelling, as follows. It is of interest,
local and otherwise.
After a full narrative of the preceding contracts, briefly
referred to above, the deed proceeds:—
The said nobill Lord gives grants and disposes and
perpetually confirms to the said William Bruce his airis and
assigneis the said 20 merk land of Soundburgh, together
with all ryt titill and kyndnes that he or his foirsaidis hes or
may have to the said four merk land callit the Provestry Landis
lyand rynrig with the said landis of Soundburgh, and the 20
merk land of Scathes with all pairtis and pertinentis from the
heichest of the hill to the lowest of the eb, reservand alwayis
the ryt and titill of ye houss laitlie biggit be the said nobill
lord upon the ground of the said landis of Soundburgh, on the
south syd of the new hall, togidder with ane yaird adjacent
thairto at the south eist gabill of the said new hall off the
lenth and breid of threscoir futes in everie quarter thairof
with frie ish and entrie thairto, Togidder with the pasturage
of tua ky and tua oxne in the somer seasoun to be pastured
vpoun the said landis of Soundburgh come and meadow being
exceptit, togidder with the pasturage of 20 wedderis within
the boundrie of the Lobitnes [?] of Scatnes at quhat tyme the
said nobill Lord and his airis sall happen to mak actuall
residence in the foirsaid houss and fortalice of Soundburgh,
and in his absence the said William and his foirsaidis to have
the keping of the said hous and yaird, he and they being answerable
to the said nobill lord and his foirsaidis for the
Insycht [inside] plennissings and titheris guidis and geir that
sall be delyverit to the said William at the Earls removing
thairfrom, and William and his foresaids to be free of all
such pasturage during the absence of the Earl and his foresaids,
to be haldin in feu ferme and heritage for yearly payment
of threttene lispund and aucht merk butter with threttene
schillingis twa cuttell wadmell with Scatt and Watle thairof
use and wont, togidder with ye soume of six schillingis four
pennies money forsaid as for the auld few ferme dewtie and
augmentatioun usit and wont to be payit for the foirsaid
landis in tyme bygane at the termis of payment usit and
wont, and also gevand thre suttis at the said nobill earles
heid Courtis in Zetland yeirlie in name of few ferme allenarlie
as in the first Charter of few ferme But [i.e. without] prejudice
of the Earl's action and exceptions before specially excepted, 1
the Earl obliging himself to remove himself, his tenantis,
servantis, Chamerlane, and speciallie the said Malcolme
Sinclair, 2 and all other possessors of the said lands of Soundburgh,
Underhoull, 3 Scatnes, and Provestis landis, with houssis
biggingis and pertinentis, and to mak the ground of the said
landis voyd and red, and to enter the said William his
tennantis and servandis in his name to the possessioun of all
and sindrie the said landis betwixt the dait heirof and the
25th day of November nixtocum, and to deliver to him the
Cornis that grew upon the ground of Soundburgh this present
Crope 1605 yeiris and quhilkis war put in the barnis and
barnyairdis thairof without any claime hereafter whatever by
the Earl or his foresaids, reservand and exceptand his actioun
as said is, Binding him to warrant William's entry against all
action of intrusion, spoliation, wrangous intromission etc.
and to maintene him and his foresaids in the possession
It is expressly agreed that the Earl and his successors shall
have full right to receive and uplift the haill profeittis and
commoditeis of all Orknay fische boittis and Cathnes fysche
boittis upon the ground of the said landis of Soundburgh ffor
their grund yierlie during the tyme of the fysching to be
bigit above the said be the saidis fyscheris of Orknay
and Cathnes conforme to use and wont, and the said William
1 This refers to a lawsuit between the parties.
2 Malcolme Sinclair, previously designed 'Vicar of Dunrossness.' This was
Malcolm Sinclair of Quendal, who then was in possession of the Vicarage dues
of this and other parishes ('Lay Vicar'). See the Discharge to him, by Earl
Patrick, of Umboth and other duties, of date 9th June 1609 (Appendix No. XI.).
3 Underhoull, in the island of Unst, formerly the property of William
Sinclair of Underhoull, whose widow, Margaret, daughter of Lord John
Stewart, Prior of Coldingham, William Bruce had married.
obliges himself to give them ground-leiff [leave] to that
effect, and for uphalding of the said ludgis to cast fuill and
devot on the ground of Sumburgh or Scatnes according to
use and wont, the Earl and his foresaids in the meantyme
causing the said fishers of Orkney and Caithness to keep
cornis, meadow and grass fra all dystructioun and
skaith that may befall thairto be the saidis fyscheris and thare
gudis and be accustomit of making of unlawfull gaittis and
passages throw the saidis Cornis meddowis and Grass quhilkis
war not of use to be maid of befoir, the Earl and the fishers
to pretend no right or interest in the lands of Sumburgh by
reason of the privilege foresaid, but only to the fishers' lodges.
For the quhilk caus the said William Bruce for himself and
his heirs and successors renunceis, quitclaimis and dischairgis
and ouergives to the said nobill lord the said twa last 1 of
land in Sandwick, making the former infeftment cancelled
and of none effect, agreeing to warrant the same and to remove
himself and his wyff bairnis familie servandis gudis and
geir fra the saidis landis of Sandwick and to enter the noble
lord to the possession thereof with haill cornis thairupon so
soon as the Earl shall cause William to be entered in possession
of Sumburgh. And forsamekill as the said William
was in use to pay to the said Earl twentie angell nobillis or
the sum of audit [scoir merkis] Scottis money for the landis
callit Provestis landis yeirlie before the making of the present
Contract [of 1604] by which the Earl discharged the said
William of the payment of the said 20 angel nobles, notwithstanding
William Bruce now binds himself and his foresaids
to pay the same to the Earl, or the said soume of aucht
scoir merkis money foresaid for the same and that yeirlie
as long as he sall bruick joyse and possess the said landis
callit Provestis landis, but if they should happen to be
evicted 2 by any person or persons fra the said William he
or his foresaids sall be na farder astricted nor oblist in the
payment of the said 20 angellis; Reservand allwayis to the
1 A 'last' of land was 18 merks.
2 This shows the consciousness of an imperfect title at this time (1605) and
the apprehension of possible eviction by claimants from Denmark or Norway.
Earl and his foresaids the action of nonentrie competent
to him aganis Margrat Stewart spous to the said William
Bruce and the said William for his entres [interest] of the
landis of Uye [Uyea] with the pertinentis as accordis of the
law. The parties discharge each other of all actions, quarrels,
causes etc. quhatsomever quhilkis ather of thame can propone
move or persew for anything preceding the date hereof. For
further security they consent to the registration hereof in the
buikis of Counsall.
The document is written by a clerk to Mr. James Shirlaw,
Wrettar in Edinburgh, of the date above written (11 Nov.
1605), before these Witnesses James Sinclair of Murkell (Murkle
in Caithness), Hew Halcro fear of that Ilk (Halcro feuar of
Halcro in Orkney), and James Annand, servitor to the Earl.
The deed, which is in the Charter-chest at Sumburgh, is
a contemporary official extract signed by 'Joannes Skene,'
the Lord Clerk Register.
WE Patrik erle of Orkney lord Zetland be ye tennor heirof
Grantis ws to have ressavit fra Malcolme Sinclair of Quendaill
the sowme of four Angellis as for the pryce of ilk barrell
of Tuelff barrellis buttir and ye soume of thrie Angellis as
for ye pryce of ilk barrell of sex barrellis of oyll as for the
Dewtie of Umbothes 1 of Dunrosness and ye soume of four
Angellis as for ye pryce of ilk barrell of thrie barrellis buttir
and the sowme of thrie angellis as for the pryce of ilk barrell of
thrie barrellis oyle as for the Dewtie of Wallis and the sowme
of tuentie angell nobillis for the Umbothes of Sandsting and
Aythsting and the sowme of sevin angell nobillis for the
Dewties of St. Petires Stowk 2 in fair Iyle addetit and awand
to ws be the said Malcolme Sinclair Conform to ane tak
and assedatioun maid and sett be ws to hym and that of the
Crope and yeir of God jm vjc and aucht yeiris [1608] of ye
quhilkis Dewteis respective abone wrettin and pryces therof
respective foirsaid off ye Crope and yeir of God abone specifeit
we hauld ws weill contentit satisfeit and compleitlie payit
and for our heiris executoris and successoris exhoneris quhitclaimis
and simpliciter dischargis the said Malcolme Sinclair
his airis executoris and successoris of the same and all utheris
1 Umboth duties. These were the dues belonging to the Bishopric of
Orkney, at that time in the hands of the Earl.
2 St. Peter's Stouk. It is not clear what this precisely was, whether some
small revenue or tithing, or a collecting-box for donations in the name of St.
Peter. Its existence in the Fair Isle is remarkable.
yeiris preceiding the said trope and yeir of God jm vjc and
aucht yeiris and for the mair securitie thairof we ar
content that thir presentis be registrat in ye buikis of Counsall
for sure conservatioun ad futuram rei in memoriam Lykeas
for registering heirof constitutis Archibald boyd our procuratour
to consent to the registratioun heirof In witnes wherof
wrettin in Edinburgh be Mr James King nottar we haive
subscribit thir presentis with our handis at the burgh of the
Cannogait the xvj day of Junij the yeir of God jm vjc and
nyne yeiris befoir thir Witnessis Michaell balfour of Garth
ye said Mr. James King and James Annand our servitor.
Michaell balfour Witnes.
James King Witnes.
James Armand Witnes.
Note. — The above deed is transcribed from a contemporary
official extract in the possession of the Editor, bearing the
signature of Sir John Skene, the Lord Clerk Register.
THE following are a few examples of entries: see INTRODUCTION.

1734, Novr 30. Robert Bruce of Sumburgh and Alice
Dammahoy [Dalmahoy] his spouse had a son baptiz'd
called John. God Fathers: Ja. Scott of
Gibliston and Robert Sinclair of Scalloway. God
Mother, Madam Fraser.
Dec. 7. Ro. Mouatt in Scatness and Barbara Sinclair
his spouse hade a son baptiz'd called Robert. God
Fathers — Ja. Scot of Gibliston, Rob. Dick of Fracafield,
Ro. Sinclair of Scalloway, Ro. Bruce of Sumbrough.
God Mother Lady Scalloway etc.
1735, Decr. Robt Dick of Fracafield and Jean Dickson his
spouse hade a Daughter baptized called Frances.
God Father — Ro. Sinclair of Scalloway. God
Mothers Mrs Peggy pitcairn and Mrs Wilson.
1736, April 30. Mr Jo: and Christian Hunters hade a son
baptized called Robert. God Fathers: Ja: Scot,
And: Dick of Wormidale, Godmother Lady Giblistone.

[The father is the Rev. Mr Hunter, author of the
1736, May 19. James Forbes and Janet Haucrow in Skelberry
hade a son baptized called John. God
Fathers And: Forbess his father and John Morison
in Bigtoun God mother Elizabeth Forbess spouse
to James Calder.
1737. At Whiteness. Dec. 29.
Laur: Tulloch and Grisell Watson — James.
G. F. Alexander Sinclair of Brow and Ro: his
brother, G. M. Jean Sinclair, sister to Brow.
1738. At Scalloway. Jany. 20, 17 3/3 7/8.
John Scot of Melbie [formerly designed 'of
Valley'] and Elizabeth Mitchell, a son James.
G: Fa: James Scott of Gibliston and Alex:
Innes, Physician. G: M: Miss Lillias Scott
their sister.
1738. At Scalloway. Dec. 24.
Gilbert Bairnson and Sweety Sanders daur [i.e.
Sandersdaughter] — a son — Murdoch G: F: Ro.
Sinclair of House and And: Dick of Wormidale.
G: M: Philad. Damahoy Lady of House.
1743. At St. Barnaby's Chapel. April 10. William Stout
and Marg: Scot in Tob — daughter — Alice. G: F:
ye parent, G: M: Penelope Jonson.
1741. At Sumbroughgerth [Sumragarth near Boddam,
Dunrossness]. Novr 12. Mr John Skinner, Chaplain
at House and Grissel Hunter lawfull daughter
Mr John and Christian Hunter, Minr. [The bridegroom
was Skinner, the poet, afterwards an
episcopal clergyman, and father of Bishop John
Skinner, and grandfather of Bishop William
At Skelberry. Novr 5.
Henry Jameson and Ursula Gilbertsdaughter in
Rerewick in the parish of Dunrossness.
By 1 ox. . .£10 0 0
By six Geese. . . 1 16 0
By six lispund meal . . 6 0 0
By six lispund bear . . 3 12 0
By six bottles wine . . .4 4 0
July 13, 1736.By Cash . 6 0 0
July 20 by Cash . 12 12 0
Octr 20 by Cash . 3 0 0
By a mart or cow 1736 . 8 0 0
By six Geese 1736. . 1 16 0
By Ballance paid in Cash . 3 0 0
£60 0 0
[This, being Scots money, estimated at 1s. 8d. to the £,
allows a modest income of £5 stg. per annum. Elsewhere
the following items appear, convertible into sterling money
the same ratio:—]
1 lispund Salt £0 16 0
1 lispund malt 1 0 0
1 anker Butter 8 0 0
1 Sow . . 1 16 0
½ anker Waters
4 pints ditto
2 rolls tobacco
a stick course linnin
4¼ ells Scots linnin
12 ells damask 3 12 0
½ lb Tea
2 lib. Bend leather
½ lb. Hops.
5 lispund wool. . . 8 0 0
5 pair Stockens [1735]. 1 10 0
72 Tusk [fish salted].
2 pints Brandy
Jamaica pepper
2 Bottles Brandy [1740]
2 Bottles Rum
2 Bottles Gin
½ mutchkin oyle
½ firkin soap [1736]
2 sugar loaves [1738]
a Hollander Cheese
a new black Wigg
an other white wigg
7 ells stuff
4½ ells black cloath
4 Geese from Marion Hacro in Vadsgirth
Dec. 16. 1737.
Fracafield — to my encouragement . . 12 12 0
To cash from [Gilbert Niven of] Scousbrough, 9 0 0
(Per MS. Diary in possession of Mr. Bruce of
1. From Reports of the Society in Scotland for Propagating
Christian Knowledge.
School. Master. Salary. Boys. Girls. Scholars.
1774 Bremer Robert Macpherson £3 23 16 39
Fair Isle Robert Thomson 4 17 7 24
1775 Bremer Robert Macpherson 4 23 16 39
Fair Isle Robert Thomson 5 18 8 26
1780 Quendale Robert Thomson 10 24 21 45
Fair Isle John Irvine 7 14 5 19
1781 Quendale. Robert Thomson 10 64 12 76
Fair Isle John Irvine 7 21 10 31
1786 Ridewick 1 James Strong 10 [no statistics
of attendance given].
Fair Isle John Irvine 7 17 13 30
1790 Ridwick 1 James Strong 10 33 10 43
Fair Isle John Irvine 8 20 17 37
1793 Ridwick 1 James Strong 10 60 14 74
Fair Isle John Irvine 8 20 14 34
1810 Brew William Henry 14 … … 80
Robert Gaudie 15 34 11 45
Fair Isle John Irvine 12 23 7 30
1890 Brew William Henry 14 … … …
Robert Gaudie 15 … … …
1 Ridewick, or Ridwick. There is no place of this name in the parish
The Society's Schools were changed occasionally to different suitable centre
and this may have been Rerwick, on the west side of the parish.
School Master. Salary. Boys. Girls. Total
1820 Fair Isle Andrew Henderson 12… … …
1823 Brew William Henry 1 15 … … …
Robert Gaudie 15 36 16 52
Fair Isle James Cheyne 15 … … …
1831 Brew [not mentioned]
Robert Gaudie 15 20 50 * 70
Fair Isle James Cheyne 15 50 27 77†
1838 Vatchley Magnus Manson 15 … … …
Robert Gaudie 15 … … 80
Fair Isle James Cheyne 15 … … 70†
In 1848 the name of Mr. John Thomson appears as master
at Cunningsburgh, with the same salary — £18 — as that of
his predecessor, who retired on an allowance; and in 1851 Mr.
George Stewart is entered as master at Vatchley (i.e. Vatz-lie,
'the watery-place') in Dunrossness, at the same figure.
2. From Parliamentary Returns from Sheriffs of Counties,
Session 1826, vol. xviii.
QUERIES as to the state of the Establishment for
Parochial Education in the several Parishes within
the County of Orkney and Zetland, and Answers
to the same from Dunrossness, 1825.
1. Q. What were the Salary and Emoluments of the
Schoolmaster at the earliest period at which they can be
1 William Henry appears in 1829 on the superannuated list, with an
allowance of £10, continued to teach at Brew, but not required to report. His
name is quoted as late as in 1853.
* The attendance stated here as 20 boys, 50 girls, at Cunningsburgh, seems
to be reversed. The boys were always in a large majority, education having
been thought to be of but little value for girls.
† This attendance at the Fair Isle is enormous in proportion to the population,
which was under 300. There may possibly be a mistake in the figures.
correctly stated, and the Branches of Education taught at
the same period?
2. Q. What were the Salary and Emoluments of the
Schoolmaster between 1780 and 1803, and the Branches
of Education taught at the same period?
1. and 2. A. Nineteen pounds ten shillings.
3. Q. What were his Salary and Emoluments between
1803 and 1824, specifying Salary, School Fees, other Sources
of Emolument, size of his House?
3. A. Salary £16, 9s.; payment in lieu of ground £2, 1s.;
fees £1; size of house 32 ft. by 12½ ft.
4.Q. What were these for the year ending in 1825?
4. A. The same as stated in the answer to the preceding
5. Q. State whether there is at present one or more
Schoolmasters established on the legal Provision: if two,
Whether there be two Schoolmasters' Dwelling Houses, their
size, the proportion of Salary allotted to each, and the Amount
of School Fees received by each?
5. A. One. (1.)
6. Q. What is the present rate of School Fees?
6. A. Tenpence per quarter for reading; 1s. 8d. for
reading and writing; 2s. 6d. for reading, writing, and
7. Q. What is the Average Number of Scholars who
attend one or both Schools annually?
7. A. Twenty-five. (25.)
8. Q. What are the Branches of Education which the
present Schoolmaster is qualified to teach, and the Branches
actually taught?
8. A. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are taught. The
Schoolmaster is qualified to teach book-keeping and navigation
9. Q. State whether there be at present any, and what, other
Schools in the Parish; if there be, when established, by whom
maintained, whether Dissenters or others, the Emoluments
of the Schoolmasters, the rate of School Fees, Branches of
Education taught, and by what number of Children attended?
9. A. There are at present two other Schools in the ministry,
supported by the Society in Scotland for propagating Christian
Knowledge. The emoluments of the Schoolmasters may
be estimated at £16, viz. £15 for Salary and £1 for fees.
The rate of School fees is the same as in the parochial
School. The average number of children attending the two
Society Schools is 70.
10. Q. What is the greatest Distance at which Children
go daily to School?
10. A. About two miles.
11. Q. State whether there be any part of a Parish so
distant from a School as to prevent attendance; if there be,
what is the Distance, and what is the Population of such
part of the Parish?
11. A. There are three districts in this ministry so distant
from all the Schools as to prevent attendance. None
of these districts is nearer than three miles to a School,
and the Population of each of them is about 300.
12. Q. What proportion does the Population of any
Towns or Villages in the parish bear to the Population of the
whole Parish?
12. A. There are no Towns or Villages in the ministry.
T. BARCLAY, Minister.
[Mr. Barclay was afterwards minister successively of Lerwick
and of Currie in Midlothian, and latterly Principal
of the University of Glasgow.]
3. In Shireff's General View of the Agriculture of the
Shetland Islands (Edinburgh, 1814), it is stated that in 1808
there existed in Dunrossness 'two Charity Schools, the number
of Scholars, 47 males and 23 females. Each of the Schoolmasters'
income is £25. One parochial School, number of
Scholars 20, viz. 13 males, 7 females. The teacher has £25
4. In the New Statistical Account of Scotland, Parish
of Dunrossness (1841) the position of educational matters
is thus described:—
'This parish is much in want of proper Schools for the
education of the rising generation, there being, besides the
parochial, only some private ones kept by young men,
employed by the parents at their own expense, and that only
for a part of the year, — they betaking themselves to the
fishing in summer, as what they earn from teaching does not
compensate them. The parochial School is stationed in the
parish of Sandwick. In Cunningsburgh, there are a School,
appointed by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge,
and a Sabbath evening school. There are few or
none of the people who cannot read.'
Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty,
at Me Edinburgh University Press.
Scottish History Society.
Chairman of Council.
DAVID MASSON, LL.D., Professor of English Literature, Edinburgh
W. F. SKENE, D.C.L., LL.D., Historiographer-Royal for
Colonel P. DODS.
GEORGE BURNETT, LL.D., Lyon-King-of-Arms.
J. T. CLARK, Keeper of the Advocates' Library.
THOMAS DICKSON, LL.D., Curator of the Historical Department,
Register House.
Right Rev. JOHN DOWDEN, D.D., Bishop of Edinburgh.
J. KIRKPATRICK, LL.B., Professor of History, Edinburgh
ÆNEAS J. G. MACKAY, LL.D., Sheriff of Fife.
Corresponding Members of the Council.
SMUND AIRY, Esq., Birmingham; Very Rev. J. CUNNINGHAM,
D.D., Principal of St. Mary's College, St. Andrews; Professor
GEORGE GRUB, LL.D., Aberdeen; Rev. W. D. MACRAY,
Oxford; Professor A. F. MITCHELL, D.D., St. Andrews;
Professor W. ROBERTSON SMITH, Cambridge; Professor J.
VEITCH, LL.D., Glasgow; A. H. MILLAR, Esq., Dundee.
Hon. Treasurer.
J. J. REID, B.A., Advocate, Queen's Remembrancer.
Hon. Secretary.
T. G. LAW, Librarian, Signet Library.
1. THE object of the Society is the discovery and printing,
under selected editorship, of unpublished documents illustrative
of the civil, religious, and social history of Scotland. The
Society will also undertake, in exceptional cases, to issue
translations of printed works of a similar nature, which have
not hitherto been accessible in English.
2. The number of Members of the Society shall be limited
to 400.
3. The affairs of the Society shall be managed by a Council
consisting of a Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary, and twelve
elected Members, five to make a quorum. Three of the twelve
elected members shall retire annually by ballot, but they shall
be eligible for re-election.
4. The Annual Subscription to the Society shall be One
Guinea. The publications of the Society shall not be delivered
to any Member whose Subscription is in arrear, and
no Member shall be permitted to receive more than one copy
of the Society's publications.
5. The Society will undertake the issue of its own publications,
i.e. without the intervention of a publisher or any other
paid agent.
6. The Society will issue yearly two octavo volumes of about
320 pages each.
7. An Annual General Meeting of the Society shall be held
on the last Tuesday in October.
8. Two stated Meetings of the Council shall be held each
year, one on the last Tuesday of May, the other on the
Tuesday preceding the day upon which the Annual General
Meeting shall be held. The Secretary, on the request of three
Members of the Council, shall call a special meeting of the
9. Editors shall receive 20 copies of each volume they edit
for the Society.
10. The owners of Manuscripts published by the Society
will also be presented with a certain number of copies.
11. The Annual Balance-Sheet, Rules, and List of Members
shall be printed.
12. No alteration shall be made in these Rules except at a
General Meeting of the Society. A fortnight's notice of any
alteration to be proposed shall be given to the Members of the
Works already Issued.
CUNNINGHAM OF CRAIGENDS, 1673-1680. Edited by the Rev.
GRAMEID: an heroic poem descriptive of the Campaign of
Viscount Dundee in 1689, by JAMES PHILIP of Almerieclose.
Edited, with Translation and Notes, by the Rev. A. D.
1559-1582. Edited by D. HAY FLEMING.
5. DIARY OF THE REV. JOHN MILL, Minister of Dunrossness, Sandwick,
and Cunningsburgh, in Shetland, 1740-1803, with original
documents, local records, and historical notices relating
to the District. Edited by GILBERT GOUDIE, F.S.A. Scot.
Edited by W. G. SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, Advocate.
In Preparation.
1583-1600. Edited by D. HAY FLEMING.
to prove the same, transmitted to the Commissioners
of Excise by the several Supervisors of Excise in Scotland.
Presented to the Society by the EARL OF ROSEBERY.
GLAMIS PAPERS; including the 'BOOK OF RECORD,' written by PATRICK,
HELEN MIDDLETON, his wife, and other documents, illustrating
the social life of the seventeenth century. Edited from the
original manuscripts at Glamis Castle by A. H. MILLAR.
ARCHIBALD CONSTABLE, with a Memoir of the author by ÆNEAS
J. G. MACKAY, Advocate.
OF CRAIGNETHAN CASTLE, 1659-60. Edited by A. G. REID,
F.S.A. Scot., from a manuscript in his possession.
1646-1662. Edited by the Rev. JAMES CHRISTIE, D.D., with
an Introduction by the Rev. Professor MITCHELL, D.D.
'THE HISTORY OF MY LIFE, extracted from Journals I kept since I
was twenty-six years of age, interspersed with short accounts
of the most remarkable public affairs that happened in my
time, especially such as I had some immediate concern in,'
1702-1754. By Sir JOHN CLERK OF PENICUIK, Baron of the
Exchequer, Commissioner of the Union, etc. Edited from
the original MS. in Penicuik House by J. M. GRAY.
In Contemplation.
with an English Translation, from the unpublished manuscript
in the Advocates' Library.
(1675-1699). Edited by the Rev. A. W. CORNELIUS HALLEN.


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Diary of the Reverend John Mill, Minister of the Parishes of Dunrossness Sandwick and Cunningsburg in Shetland, 1740-1803

Document Information

Document ID 87
Title Diary of the Reverend John Mill, Minister of the Parishes of Dunrossness Sandwick and Cunningsburg in Shetland, 1740-1803
Year group 1850-1900
Genre Personal writing
Year of publication 1889
Wordcount 98811

Author information: Mill, Rev. John

Author ID 240
Title Rev.
Forenames John
Surname Mill
AKA John Milne
Gender Male
Year of birth 1712
Place of birth Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland
Occupation Clergyman
Father's occupation Clergyman
Locations where resident Lerwick