Past Life: A letter from the past
From Shetland Life, June 1985, No.56
23rd March, 1864.
My Dear Cousin,
I write you these few lines to let you know that we are all in our usual good health, and thank God, and I hope you and your husband and dear child are enjoying the same blessings.
I received your kind letter and was glad to hear all your news, and also to hear that the stockings came safe to hand and could please so well. The money will come alright. I wish I had as many pounds to get as I will have pence it would be safe enough. I do not know what to tell you first by way of news. It is so long since I wrote last that I do not remember all that has taken place since then but I will try to remember all which I think would be of any interest to you. I am sorry to tell you that the Lady Franklin, one of the straits ships* never came home.
There were three Sandness lads on her, Sinclair Georgeson, Lilian Coutts youngest son, James Wishart, who lived with old Robert Moffat and a son of Arthur Walterson who lived in Dale but is now living in Sandness. Their friends are very much distressed about them. They still hope they may be alive but it is most likely they are not.
There has been plenty of weddings here this winter, but we have not been at any of them. Peter has been at three of them so he will be able to give you all the news. He had the fiddle at Peter Irvine’s and George Peterson’s weddings and some of the lasses are getting the Black Stool for dancing. Do you remember the day we got the Reproof. I think I see Janet Twatt coming over to the place where we were sitting and James of Windihill standing up there in the corner.
I dare say you will not remember much about Peter Irvine’s wife. She is Magnus Sinclair of Snaraness youngest daughter. She would not have been grown up when you went away. She is a tall, stout woman and I think she may do very well. No man knows whether Archibald is alive or not. Thomas is very feeble now, but he will not care how soon he is taken from this world, His treasure is laid up in Heaven. Betty is still very poorly. George is growing a big boy; you would not know him now.
Magnus Robertson is married again to Ellen Robertson his own cousin. It is rather a painful thing for me to speak about but it is the course of this world and what can we say. I wish them much joy and may they be long spared together.
Little Thomas grows fast and is a good boy. Peter will have told you about the bad crops. They are bad enough but that must not frighten you from coming home. If Peter lives we will get plenty of fish. Turbot, liver muggies, hoes and fresh skate and good Scotch meal.
Come home and you can get a gig from Lerwick to Walls, There is no road from Walls to Sandness or you could have got it straight home.
Dr Scott has given orders home that we must make some kelp this summer so you must come home and help us to rake the kelp kilns and that will make us all feel young again.
We have had very bad weather for a long time now, plenty of snow and hard frost but it went away last week with a very moderate thaw so we are spreading the manure. The Greenland ships are all away again. They got very rough weather after they left Shetland.
You will have heard of the loss of the Royal Victoria, a fine new ship which the crew had to abandon in the Western Ocean in the month of January. They took to the boats on Tuesday and one of the boats came here on Saturday. The other one came to Dunrossness on Monday . They were all that time without food and water. Two men had died in the boat that came here and were thrown overboard.
It was a very bad day when they came in the sound, the breakers were rolling like mountains. Peter was one of the men that went off and brought them ashore.
They were in a very helpless state. I ran down to see if I could render any assistance but oh such a sight! I shall never forget the day. None of them were able to be brought to our house. Seven of them were put into Dr Scott’s house, four in the North House, one to Annie Sinclair’s, two to Breck and two to Snusquoy. I had to go and help Clemmie Mann to attend to their wants and it was three weeks before I was ever at our house again. Poor fellows, their feet and hands were swelled in an awful state. But my dear cousin it shall always be a consolation to me to think that I was able to do an act of kindness for my fellow creatures when they so much needed it. One poor lad belonging to Walls was so weak that I had to feed him like a child for a whole week. But they were all much better when they went away.
Your sister Nanie says if she could write you should have had a letter long ago but Magnus thinks you should write first. Jemima and Barbara are as tall as their mother. Little Magnus is a fine boy going to school. He has something like the nature of your brother. Ann Sinclair and Jeremiah they all send their blessings to you. Peerie Sarah says that when you come home she will go away with you so that she may get clear of the delling.
Peter has got your letter and papers all right so I shall not trouble you with any more of my news as you may not get it all read. Mind and write when convenient and let’s know how you get on. Peter and the lasses send their kindest love to you all and accept the same from your loving cousin,
Letter sent to Mrs James Parson,
March 25th, 1864.
* A whaler or sealer at the Davis Straits