Page images

own. There still remains a place called Cunningsgar, whose name and form bespeak it the residence of some of them; but no traces of their history remain, except the name of Belus, in ancient characters, on a stone in the church of Birsa. This government probably subsisted till the subversion of the Pictish kingdom in Scotland, A. D. 839, by Kenneth II. king of Scotland. They continued subject to that crown till the usurpation of Donald Bane, who is said to have ceded these islands and the Hebrides to Magnus king of Norway, for his assistance in the year 1099; but Dr. Macpherson has shewn this to be very improbable. The Norwegians thus got possession of these islands, and held them for 164 years, and lost them in the year 1263 by the battle of Largis, between Alexander III. king of Scotland, and Haquin, king of Norway, who died the year after, and was buried in the cathedral of Orkney. While Alexander meditated the reduction of Orkney, as he had before recovered Man and the Western isles, Magnus, who succeeded his father on the throne of Norway, entered into a treaty with him to surrender all his right to them for 4,000 marks, and 400 marks a year; and for the better confirmation thereof, a marriage was set on foot between his son and Alexander's daughter, to be completed when the parties came of age. This Magnus was for his piety reputed a saint, and the patron of this country, where he built the cathedral church of Kirkwall, which is dedicated to him. He is said to have carried the news of Bruce's victory over Edward II. at Bannockburn, to Aberdeen, and over the Pentland frith; on which the king ordered that five pounds sterling should be paid for ever out of the customs of Aberdeen to the church at Kirkwall. Alexander gave Orkney to Speire earl of Caithness, whose son was also earl of Orkney and Shetland, and his daughter brought it by marriage to the Sinclairs, successively earls thereof.

These islands are computed to be thirty in number,


and to occupy an area of 600 square miles; but there are ouly about 26 inhabited; the rest are called Holms, and are used only for pasturage. The principal inhabited ones are Pomona, Hoy, North Ronaldsay, South Ronaldsay, Sandy, Stronsay, Eday, Westray, Shapinshay, Burcay, &c.

The whole of these islands is divided into 18 parochial districts, containing 4,475 houses, inhabited by 24,445 persons, viz. 10,848 males, and 13,597 females; of whom 2,370 were returned by the late population act as being employed chiefly in trade and manufacture, and 14,586 in agriculture.

In general these islands are hilly and rocky, and there is scarcely a tree or shrub to be seen, though large trunks of oak are frequently dug up in the marshes. There are no rivers in the Orkneys, but they are well watered by lakes and rivulets. Great abundance of small horses, black cattle, sheep, and swine, are reared.

The following remarkable circumstance is told of the sheep which pasture in the uninhabited islands. In the spring, about combing time, if any person goes into the island with a dog, or even without one, the ewes suddenly take fright, and drop down as dead as if their brains had been pierced with a bullet.

The sheep in all the islands are remarkably prolific, having in general two and often three at a birth. The hogs are small, with bristly round backs, and feed at large in the fields.

All sorts of provisions are cheap, but in general the inhabitants are much distressed for the want of fuel; the farms are small, 20 acres of arable land being considered a large one. Their husbandry is extremely bad; for they have no rotation of crops, but oats and bear in alternate succession. Some spots have yielded crops of bear yearly without a change for fifty years. A small spot, now, of each farm is planted with potatoes. The single-stilted plough is that in almost uni

versal use. The usual game found in the Highlands is also found here.

The common people here are said to be much addicted to superstitious rites; in particular, interpreting dreams and omens, and believing in the force of charms. For example, in many days of the year, they will neither go to sea, nor do any work at home. In the time of sickness or danger they often make vows to this or the other favourite saint, at whose church or chapel they lodge a piece of money, as a reward for their protection; and they imagine, that if any person steals or carries off that money, he will instantly fall into the same danger from which they, by their pious offering, had been so lately delivered. On going to sea, they would reckon themselves in the most imminent danger, were they by accident to turn their boat in opposition to the sun's course; they do not marry but in the increase of the moon; they would think that the meat was spoiled, if they were to kill their cattle when that luminary is waining; and they would consider it as an unhappy omen, were they by any means disappointed in getting themselves married, or their children baptized, on the very day which they had previously fixed in their minds for that purpose.

The gentry, like those of the main land, are very hospitable; and the lower class, though so supersti tious, produce many bold, active, and hardy sailors for the British service. They are here inured to great fatigue, and are very adventurous both in fishing and in climbing rocks after the sea-fowls, which they catch in the following mauner :-They row their boat under the rock where they descry the nests, and being provided with a large net, to the upper corners of which are fastened two ropes, which are lowered down by men on the top of the rocks, they hoist up the net opposite the cliffs where the birds are sitting, when the boatmen below make a noise with a rattle, which frightens the birds, and drives them into the net. In other places


the men lower each other by a single rope from the top of the precipice to the place where their prizes are.

The prevalent distempers here are mostly those occasioned by the moisture of the climate, such as Theumatisms, consumptions, agues, &c.; for the cure of the latter, they use a diet drink of bitters and antiscorbutics, infused in ale.

The chief trade of the islands is supplying with provisions the vessels which touch upon the coast in northern voyages, and the East India fleet in time of war, when they pass this way to avoid privateers. They are likewise visited by the busses in the herringfishery, which barter tobacco, wine, brandy, and grocery, for provisions. The produce of kelp has been calculated at about three thousand tons per annum, at the rate of about six pounds per ton.

The islands of Orkney and Shetland compose one stewartry, and send one member to parliament. The union parliament dismembered the right of superiority from the crown, and granted it for a certain consideration to the Earl of Morton, who was by Queen Anne appointed hereditary steward and justiciary, but at the abolition of hereditary jurisdictions, it became vested in the crown; but as the Earl of Morton possessed the patronage of the stewarty, that nobleman long possessed the office of steward and sheriff. Lord Dundas acquired the superiority some years since by purchase from the Earl of Morton. He is authorized to appoint certain judges, cailed bailiffs, one in every island and parish, who has power to hold courts, try civil causes to the value of 10l. Scots, or 16s. 8d. sterling, as well as superintend the manners of the inhabitants; but all other matters are referred to the decision of the steward or his deputy at Pirwall, the court town.

We shall now proceed, having thus given a general account of these islands, with a separate description of the principal ones.

POMONA, called also Mainland, from its being the largest of the Orkneys; is thirty-five miles long, and

nine broad, and contains nine parishes, and four excellent harbours, at Kirkwall, Deersund, or Deerland, Grahamshall, and Cairston.

Though limestone abounds in various parts of this island, it is not much used as a manure, probably owing to the scarcity of fuel to burn it. There is likewise abundance of freestone, and about the year 1735, a lead-mine was wrought by an English company, in the village of Stromness, but it has never been attempted since. There are several lakes and rivulets, which abound with salmon and other fish, and also divers bays and head-lands

The highest hill lies on the north point of the island, and is called Rona's hill; it is 3,944 feet above the level of the sea, and on it are the remains of several towers and watch-houses.

Pomona is divided into the twelve parishes of Birsa, Sandwich, Eva, Rendall, Hara, Firth, Stennis, Stromness, Orfer, St. Olas, St. Andrew's, Holm, and Deer


Kirkwall, the chief town of the Orkneys, is situated in the parish of Kirkwall and St. Ola, in this island: it stands on the north-east coast, on a narrow strip of land, with the open sea, called the road of Kirkwall, washing one side of the town, and an inlet of the sea flowing on the other, close to the gardens at high


The town is about a mile long, of inconsiderable breadth, and composed chiefly of one street: it is badly paved, and the ends of the houses being placed next the street, gives it an awkward appearance. It was formerly the see of the bishop of Orkney, and is a royal burgh, and contains 417 houses, and 2621 inhabitants, viz. 1078 males and 1543 females, of whom 365 were returned as being employed in trade.

This town was of considerable note at a very early period, if credit is to be given to the poems of Ossian, to the time when they are thought to have been written, and the interpretation that has been

« PreviousContinue »