John R Tudor.

The Orkneys and Shetland; their past and present state online

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land ; and the Sinclairs of Quendale in Dunrossness only
became extinct about the middle of the last century. In the
disputes between the Odallers under Sir James Sinclair and
Lord Sinclair, which culminated in the battle of Summerdale,
the Shetland members of the family were on the popular side,
and in the nineteen years respite ^ granted by James V. to
Sinclair of Stroma and others, for the slaughter of the Earl of
Caithness, we find in addition to that of " Edward Sinclare of
Strome," the names of " Magnus Sinclare of Worsetter, Johnne
Sinclare of Tollap, William Sinclare of House, Olive Sinclare,
Helura, Magnus Sinclare, Lawrence Sinclare, and James
Sinclare." Till within the last twenty years or so the remains

1 Bannatyne, Miscellany, vol. iii. p. 103. - Low's Joii7-, p. 208.


of the chapel of the Sinclairs, Barons of Brugh, or Burgh,
dehneated in Hibbert, were standing not far from the head of
Catfirth Voe, but, stones being scarce in Shetland, they were
pulled down to build a dyke round the burial-ground of

Even as late as 1662^ we see Frederick III. of Denmark
confirming a gi-ant of land at Sumburgh, formerly part of
the estates of the provestrie or deanery of the Dom-Kirk,
Bergen, to one Captain Laurence Middleton.

It was not till Lord Robert Stewart appears on the scene
that we find Shetland figuring at all prominently in Scottish
records, and, even then, it was due to the evil deeds of himself
and his rifif-rafif following that it did so. Eupheme Elphin-
stone, when her royal paramour James V. was tired of her,
was made an honest woman of by John Bruce, the laird of
Cultmalundie in Fife, to whom she bore, with other children, a
son Laurence or Lucas, who followed his bastard brother's lead
in crime to the best of his abiUties. When Lord Robert, on
Balfour's fall, became Sheriff of Orkney and Great Fond of
Shetland, he appointed Laurence Bruce his deputy as Foud, who
was no sooner installed in office than he showed how fitted he
was to act as his brother's lieutenant. On the presentation of
"The Complaints of the Inhabitants of Orkney and Zetland,"
in the year 1575, against the oppression and misrule of Lord
Robert, a commission was issued, under the royal signet, by
Morton, then Regent, to William Mudie of Breckness, who
had at one time been Chamberlain of Orkney, and William
Henderson, Dingwall Pursuivant, to proceed to Shetland and
inquire on the spot into the truth of the said complaints.
This they did during the month of February, 1576-77, at
Tingwall, where they seem to have examined on oath the greater
portion of the heads of families of all the different parishes in
the islands. As the largest count in the indictment against
Laurence Bruce seems to have been his tampering with the
system of weights and measures, — which had existed unchanged,
' Proc. Scot. Ant. vol. xiv. p. 13.


up to that date, from Norse days, — in order to increase the
amount of skat and other duties payable under Odal tenure,
and of the rents called landiiiaics, payable by the tenants of
the lordship lands, it may be as well to show how those duties
and rents were paid, and what were the instruments by which
the correct weights and measures were ascertained.

All Odal lands were liable — to skat payable to the holder of
the lordship lands as representing the crown ; to forcop, a
proportionate share of the salary paid to the lawman ; and to
wattel, the fee of the Under-foud, which last-named payment
was for a long time supposed to have been originally exacted
for the good offices of some saintly woman with the higher
powers. The tenants again of the lordship or bishopric lands
paid landmales or rents, partly in malt or meal, partly in
cattle or live stock, and partly in "pennyworths," as they were
termed, small quantities of grain, butter, oil, or other produce
which went to make up any deficiencies on the other two heads.
Skat seems to have been paid chiefly in kind, though a very
small amount may have been paid in coin.

Wadmell, as the native cloth was termed, was largely used
as a representative of value, and certain quantities of malt,
meal, butter, and oil, were equivalent not only to so much
current coin, but also to articles of live stock. The unit of
weight, before weights and measures were tampered with by
Lord Robert and succeeding donatories, was the eyrar, or troy
ounce, 8 of which made i mark ; 24 marks made i lispund,
or setteen ; 6 lispunds went to the meil, and 2 meils to the
last. All these were ascertained either by the bismar or by
the pjwdlar ox puudar. The unit of barrel bulk was the can
or ka?ina of Norway, 48 of which made a barrel, and were
equal to 15 lispunds of butter, whilst 12 barrels went to the
last. In measurement of length the aittel was the unit, and
was equal to the Scottish ell. 6 cuttels were equal in value to
the eyrar or to a gidlioiin, and 10 guUiouns made a pack.
In Skene's De Verborum Significatione^ we read that "10 meales
makis ane sufficient Cow, and ane sufficient Oxe ; also ane


gild Oxe is apprised to 15 meales, and ane wedder is four
meales. Item ane Gouse is twa meales ; Item ane Capon is
half ane Gouse, viz., ane meale."

Each Vardthing elected from time to time a logrettman or
la7vrightman, whose special duty it was to keep the standard
weights and measures, and to attend when the skat and other
dues were collected in each parish by the Under-foud, and
who had also to sit as a sort of assessor at the parochial
courts. Laurence Bruce, on his appointment as Deputy-foud,
proceeded to eject the lawrightmen of the different parishes,
and to substitute in their places creatures of his own, who
increasing the length of the cuttel, exacted one-third more
wadmell than had previously been paid : — " ffor ^ quhan thai
complanit of him of the wrangus mett, he said it was na
velvat, swa thai gat no vther remeid, bot quhan thai held the
wadmell in thair hand to haue gottin richt mett, they wald gifif
thame ane straik on the hand with the cuttell to gar thaim lat
it gang." Erling of Bw, lawrightman of Dunrossness, testified
that Bruce would neither let him measure the wadmell nor
let his cuttel be used in measuring : " Quhaifoir - the said
Lawrichtman, seing he was refusit, in sing of the disobe-
dience and wrang that was done, in the presence of the haill
Commownis, he brak his cuttellis and requyrit the haill
Commownis witness heiroff." The "Duchemen" from whom
the Shetlanders purchased most of the articles not of home
growth or manufacture that they were in need of, used unjust
his7nars of their own, and generally " did " the natives all
round, with the connivance of Bruce, who for so acquiescing
received certain goods for his own use from them gratis.
From these "Duchemen"^ Bruce "gart serse out the grittest
bismeyre," but as it only cheated to the tune of three or four
marks, " he wald not ressaue the buttir thairupoun, bot upon
his awin bismeyre, quhilk he had gart mak ; quhilk was twa
or thre merkis mar of everie lespund nor the grittest bismeyre

^ Balfour's Oppressions, p. 23. '^ Ibidem, p. 34.

3 Ibidem, p. 35.


that was amangis the Duchemen." SwindUng them by unjust
weights and measures was not the only grievance the Shetlanders
had against Bruce. From time to time he and his followers,
never less^ than twelve in number, took forcible occupa-
tion of some man's house, and lived there till they had
eaten and drunk all available victuals and drink within reach,
and, to add insult to injury, " ofttymes the gudman of the houss.
at thair departing, behuvit to propyne the maister houshald,
the cuik, and Stewart with sum gift." Even then the "gud-
man's" troubles were not over, as these perambulating locusts
had to be transported - by boat or horse, the meanest boy in
the train disdaining to walk, and if he had a gun expecting
it to be carried for him. When making one of his "pro-
gresses " " in sum mennis houses, the Laird, with his companie,
wald remane quhill he wald dreink halff ane last of beir,
and sumtyme mair ; . . . . And the gudwyffes of the housse
nor thair servandis gat na entress in thair awin sellaris sa
lang as he remanit."^ A fine had always been paid, where any
man's swine had injured his neighbour's land, to the owner of
the land so injured, but Bruce levied a tax on all swine, which
was so unpopular, that in some parishes the people destroyed
all their pigs sooner than pay it. He packed the juries with
his own creatures, James Bruce, probably a relation, sitting
upon one, notwithstanding that he was " at the Kingis home
and unrelaxit,"* i.e. for the time being an outlaw and
so civilly dead. Even the ministers ^ were not above taking a
hint from the Foud's book of how to spoil the flocks committed
to their spiritual guidance, and made use of the unjust weights
and measures to exact a greater quantity of teinds than they
were entitled to. As has been shown before, the report of
Mudy and Henderson, conjoined with other causes, led to a
temporary retirement of Lord Robert from his northern
pashalik, but his brother and Deputy-foud does not seem to
have been punished for the numerous torts committed Avhen

^ Balfour's Oppressions, p. 42. - Ibidem, p. 62.

3 Ibidem, p. 43. ■* Ibidem, p. 44. ^ Ibidem, p. 65.


he held office. On his return to the north, Lord Robert,
now Earl of Orkney, continued his former career of plunder
and oppression, which, with the short interval during which
he was again under his nephew's displeasure, lasted till his
death in 1591.

No sooner was his father dead than Earl Patrick applied to
Parliament for a grant of the greater part of the Odal lands in the
Orkneys and Shetland on the ground of their having " fallen in
Nonentrie," that is, lapsed to the Crown. This called forth " a
Supplicatioun ^ to the Parliament be the Gentillmen of Orknay
and Zetland" "fifor our selff and in name of the remanent
Our Sowerane Lordis gwid subjectis heritable possessoris of
the Udack lands in Orknay and Yetland," in which the nature
of Odal tenure, to which " nonentrie " was not applicable, was
fully set forth, and in which it was stated that having com-
plained to Earl Patrick of the infeoffment which he had
jjurchased, he had promised to let it lapse if they repaid to him
the moneys he had expended in obtaining the same, which they
had done. It was further stated, that the Earl had been care-
ful not to include in the charter the Odal lands belonging to
" some Lordis in Noroway and Denmark," and that he had
only included the lands of the petitioners " whome he thinkis
to owircrow at his pleasur." Strange to say, the first name on
the petition is that of " that worthie man " Laurence Bruce, who
fifteen years previously had been charged with every form of
extortion and oppression.

Whether " the Lordis of the Articles of the Parliament " con-
descended to notice the supplication of "the Gentillmen of
Orknay and Zetland " any further than by directing it to " lie
on the table" does not appear, but Earl Patrick does not seem
in any way to have been affected by it if they did. Earl
Robert had erected for himself two residences in Shetland, one
at Wethersta in Delting, and another known as Jarlshof on
the shores of the West Voe in Dunrossness, where the ruins of
this latter dwelling-house are to be seen to the present day.

1 Balfour's Oppressions, p. lOl.

I 2


Neither Wethersta nor Jarlshof were, however, good enough
for his successor, who soon after his accession to the title must
have commenced building that castle at Scalloway, the walls of
which still frown over the most beautiful of the many beautiful
bays with which Shetland is so plentifully supplied. In this
fortalice, erected by forced labour of every description, the
meetings of the Althing were from time to time held, if a
tribunal which simply had to register whatever Earl Patrick as
Foud chose to decree can be dignified with such a name. The
first of the Acts,' of which we have any record, passed, on the
24th day of August, 1602, at Scallowa)', shows, that, in one
thing at least, Earl Patrick was better than his father, as by
it it was ordered that all " the Dutche Merchandis " and other
strangers trafficking in the islands should have their weights and
measures properly adjusted and seen to by the local authorities
under pain of confiscation of ship and cargo. The cloven
foot, however, peeped out very shortly, as on the next day it
was ordered that any one who should venture to appeal to " the
Lordis of Counsale " should " tyne the benefeit of the lawis of
the coyntrie and newer to be hard in ony caus therefter."

That he should have passed acts for the compulsory supply
of peats to his household, that ferries should be kept up by
which his followers should be transported free of charge, and
that a goodly store of oxen and wether sheep would be
demanded for his retinue was to be expected. Even when he
forbade oxen being sold to the "Duchemen" and other
strangers he was perhaps not exceeding the exactions common
to the age. These, however, were not enough, and by an act
passed at Scalloway on the 22nd of August, 1604, it was
decreed not only that no lands should be sold till the next of
kin had had the offer of them, which in fact, as has been shown,
was in strict accordance with Odal law and custom, but that,
on the refusal of the next of kin to purchase, the lands should
be offered " to my Lord himselfif," who would no doubt take
ample care that the price paid was not exorbitant.
^ Act.s and Statutes of the La^oting.


On Earl Patrick's imprisonment, Bishop Law for a short time
held sway in the islands, not only in his episcopal capacity,
but also as holding the king's commission as sheriff, and held
his first court at Scalloway on the 21st day of August, 161 2,
at which many acts for "good neighbourhood," as they were
long termed in Shetland, were passed, which acts, in the main,
were similar to those we have already seen as having been in
force in Orkney. At this court " Johne Faw elder callit
mekill Johne Faw Johne Faw younger calit Littill Johne
Faw Katherin Faw spous to umquhill Murdo Brown Agnes
Faw sister to the said Litill Johne wer indicted " for the
murder of the said Murdo Brown, and Littill Johne for incest
with his wife's sister and her daughter, and for adultery
with Katherine Faw, and all for theft, sorcery, and fortune-
teUing, " and that they can help or hinder in the proffeit of the
milk of bestiale." Katherin, who pleaded guilty to having
slain her husband with " a lang braig knyff," was sentenced
^' to be tane to the Bulwark and cassen over the same in the
sey to be drownit to the death and dome given thairupone,
and decerns the remanent persones to be quyt of the crymes
abonewrittin." Walter Ritchie, who seems to have appeared as
counsel for the accused, pleaded that it was not usual to take
cognisance of murder amongst the Egyptians. This clearly
proves them to have been gipsies, and the name to have been,
probably, Fea. Query : can the Orcadian Feas have been ol"
gipsy descent ? " The Great Fishery," as the Dutch styled
that herring-fishing which they so long and successfully
carried on off the shores of the British Isles to the envy and
disgust of the various English and Scottish writers, who wrote
on the subject during the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-
turies, was now nearly at the acme of its prosperity, and their
busses were congregating in Bressay Sound, till St. Jolui's
Day permitted them to commence fishing, in yearly increasing
numbers. Jack ashore is not always the quietest of mortals,
and Dutch Jack was no exception, and we find two acts
directed against the disorders, that ensued when the Dutchmen


were holding their yearly carnival. The one was passed in
1615, and the other on the 7th of November, 1625. By the
latter, which is entitled "Act anent the demolishing of the
houssis of Lerwick," Sir John Buchanan, who was then Sheriff
Principal of Orkney and Shetland, " being informit of the
great abominatioun and wickednes committit yeirlie be the
HoUanderis and cuntrie people godles and prophane per-
sones repairing to thame at the houssis of Lerwick quhilk
is a desert place To the venteris of beir thair quha as
appeiris voyd of all feir of God and misregarding all ciuell anc
ecclesiastical governement in thair drunkenes and utherwayis
committis manifest bludshed " . . . . " also in committing
manifold adultrie and fornicatioun with women venteris of
the said beir and utheris women evill Inclyned quha resortis
thither under pretext of selling of sokis and utheris necessaris
to thame" .... "stealing off pursis from the HoUenderis,"
&c., ordered that the houses should be demolished, that no
persons should go to Bressay to sell beer, and that " no
woman of quhatsumeuer rank or qualitie sail repair to the
said Sound syd for selling of sockis to the said HoUenderis or
bying of necessaris from thame Bot sail caus thair husband
thair sones or servandis sell and buy fra thame As thay
will eschew to be repute and haldin commoun and prophane
adultereris and punischet thairfoir at all rigour."

Although Lerwick was thus described in 1625 as "a desert
place," and such houses as then stood there were probably
demolished in accordance with Sir John Buchanan's order, the
natural fitness of the situation for the principal place and port of
the islands was too marked to be overlooked, and by Charles
the Second's time it had become so important that a fort was
built, probably on the same site whereon Fort Charlotte now
stands, and a garrison of 300 men, under a Captain William
Sinclair, a native of Shetland, stationed there to protect the
place against the Dutch. On the fir^t war with the Mynheers
coming to an end, however, not only was the garrison with-
drawn, but even the cannon removed, and in the next war a


Dutch frigate sailed into the Sound, and burnt not only the
fort, but also the best houses in the place.^ Bressay Sound
occasionally saw stirring sights enacted in those days. In
1640 ten Spanish men-of-war, Dunkirkers as they were termed,
surprised four Dutch men-of-war, waiting to convoy the East
India fleet, of which two were sunk on the west side of the
Sound, one was run ashore and blown up by her skipper, and
the fourth was captured by the Dons. During the Common-
wealth the English fleet, consisting of ninety-four sail, under
Admirals Deans and Monk, lay for several days there in
1653, and in August, 1665, ninety-two sail, under the Earl
of Sandwich.^

Of this last visit, there is a curious record, in an old
Justices of the Peace Book at Kirkwall, of some sailors, who
had been left on shore when their vessels sailed from Ler-
wick. In the wars with France at the commencement of
the eighteenth century, French privateers sailed as they liked
around the islands, though, according to Gifford,^ Mounsieur
behaved more courteously than Mynheer. In 1688, however,
a French frigate carried away for a time the daughter of
Alexander Craig,'* minister of Unst, from the bay of Norwick.
History does not relate in what plight the damsel returned,
as is mentioned in the First Statistical Account of Orphir,^ in the
case of two girls who were taken from the little island of Cava
by Gow the pirate. Of them it is said, that after spending
a few days on board ship, they were returned " to their friends
loaded with presents, and they both soon afterwards got

It may be as well here to give a short sketch of "The Great

^ Gifford's Zetland, p. 6. ^ Sibbald's Zetland, pp. 61, 62.

3 Gifford's Zetland, p. 6. ■* Easti, vol. v. p. 441.

s First Statistical Account, vol. xix. p. 398.


The Rise and Fall of " The Great Fishery T

From the middle of the ninth century, and for many years
afterwards, the fishermen on the east coast of Scotland
supplied the Low Countries with herring, and it was not till
the middle of the twelfth century that the Netherlanders are
said to have commenced fishing on their own account.^ Even
then the Scotch fishermen probably continued to dispose of a
portion of their catch to the fishermen of the Low Countries,
as in the year 1429- an Ordinance of the Royal Burghs of
Scotland was passed, by which no fish were allowed to be
sold to foreigners till the coast towns had been supplied at a
fixed rate. In consequence of this ordinance large numbers
of Scotch fishermen are said to have abandoned the trade in
their native country and to have settled in Holland.^ Till the
end of the fourteenth century the Hollanders seem to have
cured their fish in a very rough manner, probably in wet
pickle, and only in sufficient quantities to supply their home
markets ; but about that period one William Beakelson, of
Biervelet, taught them how " to gill, salt, and pack herrings
in casks." ^

Eeakelson's discovery, or improved method of curing,
whichever it really was, led the Hollanders to turn their
attention to the export trade, and early in the fifteenth century
we find them securing a footing in those Baltic markets, of
vv^hich for four centuries or so they had practically the
monopoly, and to which, at the present day, more than three
quarters of the herrings exported from Scotland are sent.

So important had " The Great Fishery " become by the
middle of the sixteenth century that, according to Jan de
Witt, the Great Pensionary, eight vessels of war were fitted out
to protect the busses from the Dunkirk pirates, and a special

^ Anderson's Origin of Commerce, vol. i. p. 41.
" Ibidem, vol. i. p. 259.

•* Appendix to Irish Fisheries Report, 1837, p. 2.
■* Jan de Witt's Political Maxims, p. 22.


tax was levied for their maintenance, known as the "Great
Impost." ^ John Keymor, a dependant of Sir Waher Raleigh,
who visited in the course of his inij^uiries not only Holland but
also the various Hanseatic towns, stated - that, when he wrote
(1601), the Hollanders possessed 2,000 busses out of a total fleet
of fishing vessels of nearly 5,000, from 60 to 100 and 200 tons
apiece, and that they exported ^ fish, not only over all the north
of Europe and to every part almost of the Mediterranean, but
even as far as Brazil. Probably, in consequence of Keymor's
report, James I. and VI. forbade foreigners to fish in British
waters without license first had and obtained, and for such
license the Hollanders are said to have agreed to pay, though
how much is not stated. In the year 1625 the "Dunkirkers
seem to have especially harassed the fishing fleet, and in
consequence the next year the Deputies of the United
Provinces fitted out thirty additional men-of-war, and estab-
lished a scale of rewards for the capture of the enemies'
vessels, varying from 30,000 down to 4,000 guilders ; and,
according to de Witt,'^ " 'twas also resolved to put the law in
execution which commands the men of Dunkirk to be thrown
over-board." Their "High Mightinesses," however, being
bad paymasters, a few years afterwards the seamen of the
Dutch men-of-war deserted to the enemy, and sailed " with
them upon freebooting ; " but, as de Witt ^ quaintly put it,
" the pigs were fain to pay for the sow's offence," and the
heads of the Admiralty were declared infamous and punished.
In the year 1633 one John Smith, "^ who was sent by the Earl
of Pembroke and others concerned in the English Royal
Fishery Corporation "for the discovery of the Island of
Schotland," and to report generally on the Hollanders' manner
of fishing, was informed that at the time of his visit to the
islands there were 1,500 sail of herring busses of about eiglit}-

^ IsLnAQy^iiVs Political lilaxims, p. 140.
- Keymor's Obso-vaiions, p. 2. ^ Ibidem, p. 6.

* Jan de Witt, p. 166. ^ Ibidem, p. 169.

^ Smith's Trade and Fishing of Great Britain, p. 7.


tons burden each, besides a small fleet of doggers of sixty
tons and upwards, engaged in the ling and cod fishing in
Shetland waters, the whole being convoyed by twenty wafters,
i.e. vessels bearing the pennant, each of twenty guns. Probably,
in consequence of representations from Lord Pembroke and his
colleagues, Charles I., on the loth of May, 1636, issued a similar

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