Times Past 06.02.09


The SIC’s general services committee has recommended that the council support Orkney Islands Council in their campaign against government proposals to dump radioactive waste in bore holes in the Stormy Bank Basin off Orkney.

There was some dispute between councillors over what was the best way to tackle to problem. Mr Henry Stewart said it was too important a matter to be passed over lightly. He proposed a motion that the council suggest the government bore a hole in the Thames estuary and bury the waste there. Dr Mortimer Manson added that Mr Stewart’s motion was quite sensible. As because the waste was to be buried 30,000 feet under the ground it could be put anywhere.

Mr Chris Dowle moved an amendment that the SIC would consult with the OIC and support them in their campaign against the government proposal. The amendment was carried 10 votes to five.


Many tributes will be paid to the memory of Mr Mitchell U. Williamson, who died at his home in Aberdeen on Sunday, but the tribute most deserved and the one he himself would have appreciated most is that at the end of a long and successful business career, mainly in Aberdeen, he was as much a “Skerries boy” and a true Shetlander as on the day when he first left home.

Aged 74, Mr Williamson was afflicted by serious illness in recent years, but seemed to be in better health a few months ago when he made what was to be his last visit to Shetland. In recent weeks however his condition deteriorated and his death was not unexpected at the last.

Mitchell Williamson’s early life followed the pattern of so many of his contemporaries – he worked as a beach boy in Skerries, he went to the haaf in the last of the sixareens and one day in his early teens literally ran away to sea. This first venture beyond the isles he was wont to recall – a sailing drifter called at the isle to see if they could pick up a cook. Mitchell, first to greet the arrivals, offered himself for the job, rushed home to pack a few belongings and to bid farewell to his mother, and thus set out to find success in a busy world.

From the haaf and the herring fishing, the young seafarer turned to the merchant navy and joined the R.N.R. In the last years of his life, when he went cruising in search of health and sunshine, he liked to recall that his first cruises were as a deckhand in the old St Sunniva with which the North of Scotland Company pioneered cruises to the Norwegian fjords.

While in the North ships, Mr Williamson saw the opportunities for commercial enterprise in Shetland and his first (and not very successful) essay at business life was as a commission agent for margarine.

From this beginning, Mr Williamson got a real opportunity as agent for the wholesale firm of Aitken & Wright, travelling the length and breadth of the isles on their behalf and managing their warehouse. In 1923 he went to Aberdeen where he opened the firm’s branch there and became their representative in Orkney. Mr G. H. Burgess succeeded him at Lerwick.

In 1932, Mr Williamson became a partner in the firm of A. & R. Gray in Aberdeen, becoming managing director on the death a few years later of the senior partner. Under his direction the business expanded rapidly, developing a strong connection in the North.

Mr Williamson also became chairman of the board of A.B. Chalmers (Inverness) Ltd., thus bringing the whole North of Scotland into his purview.

Beyond the business world, Mr Williamson had many interests. His public career started just after the first war, when he became a member of Lerwick Harbour Trust and of the Education Authority. When he went to Aberdeen he took great interest in the Harbour Board there and was convener of its finance committee for many years.

During the second war he was area chairman of the Ministry of Information and greatly enjoyed the contacts he made in that capacity with visiting speakers and VIPs of many kinds. Probably the most absorbing work from Mr Williamson’s point of view was as a member of the Scottish Tourist Board from its inception. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of selling Scotland as a tourist centre and toured America and South Africa in that cause.

Last year Mr Williamson endowed a fund to provide an annual prize for the child at Skerries school who was considered to have the most initiative and leadership. It was his hope to present this prize personally in 1959.


A correspondent writes as follows: The vast oral literature of the “old-folk” of Shetland, now fast disappearing, included many a long story and many an incident of human interest and graphic description, which mirrored clearly the life and circumstances of bygone times, and provided a means of comparing them with our own.

A little incident, related to me by an aged woman, who was still alive quite recently, is worth recording at this time. She said – “The night that I was born, my father and my uncle went for the midwife. Her name was Bruce Charlesson [1781-1869], a sensible and superior woman that lived in Dalaskja, in Gravaland, in the Herra of Yell. She lived to be an old, old woman, and died long, long ago. My father and my uncle were strong young men, about 25 years old. There was no road then; they had to go through the hills 9 or 10 miles. There was snow on the ground; it had been wet and then frozen in a hard crust on the top. My father put on a pair of new shoes when he went, and, when they came back with the woman, his shoes were cut in pieces on his feet, travelling through the frozen snow. They never went on again.

“I was born the same night; it was on a Sunday, five days before Candlemas in the year ‘19.” Now, the 7th February, 1819, fell on a Sunday, and it falls on Sunday this year – 1909. It is just ninety years ago, and the story gives us a picture of travelling in these days in winter, in the wild rugged hills of Yell and, indeed, in all Shetland; and the very weather that night, ninety years ago.

Nowadays, there is a road to every door almost, and doctors on cycles, or motors, and with electric lamps when needed, and telegraphs and telephones to call them.


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