Reminiscences of Alexander Marwick    

Corse, Rousay

1801 - 1889
I was born at Loweshouse in the district of Wasbister in the year 1801.  First I recall the island of Rousay had eleven different proprietors, viz, Mr Traill of Westness, M Rowland Marwick of Eastyquoy, Mr John Harrold of Cott and diver, Mr Traill of Quendale, the Earl of Zetland, Mr Balfour of Shapinsay, Mr Baikie of Tankerness, Mr Rae  of Veira, M Spence of the Mill of Brake, M Traill of Frotoft, and Mr John Craigie of Hullion.
The first tenant I remember in Westness was widow Craigie, and in the farm Archibald Hume.  The first tenant I remember in Saviskaill was John Inkster who afterwards became the proprietor of the estates of Saviskaill.  The first tenants I remember in Langskaill were David Gibson and William Harcus.  In Faraclett was Isaac Mackay, in Scockness Hugh Marwick, in Banks, Sourin James Mainland, in Nearston GW Craigie, in Avelshay Leslie Mainland, in Trumbland James Yorston, in Nears William Craigie, in Hunclet James Robertson, in Banks, Frotoft Alexander Mainland, and in Corse James Yorston.
From the dyke of Grind to the Lobust I remember 40 families all of whom had land more or less.  On that land together with the hill privilege they kept 70 horses, 220 cattle, and between 600 and 700 sheep.  All the land at that time was ploughed with the side plough with one arm.  They were drawn by 3 or 4 horses.  At that time there was not a cart in the island nor a harrow with iron teeth.  The first two armed plough I remember was on the farm of Saviskaill.  The first cart belonged to Drummond Louttit on the farm of Upper Quendale .  The only crops grown at that time were oats, bere and a few potatoes.  Every house had a large cabbage yard which was very useful for the family use and also for the cattle.  In summer the hills swarmed with horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and geese.  The sheep were divided into flocks or haants as they were called.  They came to the shore in the winter season to eat seaweed when the sea was down and they went to the hills when it began to flow.  There was more beef and mutton used in Rousay in one year or is now used in ten years.
The first church I attended was the church in the Westside.  The minister's name was Paterson who preached in the Egilsay church one Sabbath and in the Westside the other till the Established Church was built in the Brinian in 1815.  There was one parochial school in the parish and one society school.  In the parochial school was Mr Leask and in the society school was Mr Smyton.  In my boyhood there were men belonging to the island that went to Shetland every year for the purpose of bartering goods.  They gave linen and other stuffs for bed rugs, ponies and gin.  They would give 15 shillings for a fine Shetland pony. The boats that they went with would be from 16 to 20 feet of keel and rigged with a large square sail.  The time they were away would be about 3 weeks.  Sometimes they were much annoyed by French pirates during the French wars.  About the end of the French war Britain was so hard up for men that they had to press men for the navy and army. There were some very exciting scenes under my observation trying to avoid the press gang. There were some young men in Wasbister that had to sleep in the Haas of Gamlie (the rocks behind Stenisgorn) for safety all night. I knew a man belonging to Egilsay who slept in the middle of a stack of oats almost every night of the winter in a room which he had prepared for himself.
The principal means which young men had of earning money was the whale fishing at Davis Straits and some went to the Hudson 's Bay service.  The old women's earnings was the spinning of lint.  The young women's earnings was the plaiting of straw.  The fanners summer work was the making of kelp.
In the first of my minding the Christmas was kept as follows.  Every house that grew some crops brewed some ale for Christmas.  On Christmas eve every house killed a sheep, but they neither had white bread or tea.  Their bread was oatcakes and sowan scones.  When they got cod in the Christmas week they baked a cake of bere meal and cod livers which was as good and as well liked as any shortbread of the present day.  The young men played football till dark then they went to a fiddler's house and danced till twelve o'clock at night.  On New Year's eve a number of young men went from door to door singing New Year songs, whereupon the door was quickly opened and the singers were set down to the best in the houses.  It was looked upon as a token of respect to those whom they visited, but the ill-loved neighbours were generally passed over.

In 1801 a ship was wrecked below Saviskaill under ballast.  In 1807 a ship was wrecked below Langskaill loaded with lint.  In 1816 a ship was wrecked in the Klink Geos in the Leean, timber laden.

The grouse was very plentiful then, much more so or what they are at the present day.  When a bull got mad it was put to the hill, making it not a very safe place to go without some weapon of defence.  I once heard of a daring adventure that a man had with a bull in the Rousay hills.  The man was at the hill in search of his horse when the bull saw him above the Muckle Water.  The man ran to a soft bog, or quag as it is called.  The bull followed him into the quag and stuck.  The man John Craigie of Claybank drew his big knife and killed the bull.

About the commencement of the century a child of the name of Mowat, 2 years old, strayed from the house of Mears in Sourin in a thick mist. His parents sought him for two days in vain.  A dog belonging to Furse was missed the same day as the child went away.  The dog came home on the third day and got some food.  He went away as soon as he had taken it.  He was followed by the servant man.  The dog ran to a pigsty in the Brings, and when the man went to the sty the dog made for springing at him.  He looked in and found the child alive and well.  He took the child home and went and told the parents who gladly came for him. He lived in Rousay to an old age.  I knew him well.  The most remarkable thing about it was that before the dog would venture home for food he had sent all the swine about a mile from the sty in which the child was found.

In those days superstitions prevailed among the people to a great extent.  But when the home brewed ale was less used the superstitions died away.

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