Times Past 10.04.09

25 Years Ago

Any radical changes to Shetland’s constitutional status have been completely rejected by the Montgomery Committee of Inquiry. However, the committee report, which was published on Tuesday, recommends a number of major changes for SIC finances, particularly the handling of its oil reserves.

The report has been given guarded welcomes by the SIC and Orkney and Shetland MP Mr Jim Wallace, but the Shetland Movement – which proposed a new legislative assembly for the islands – has expressed disappointment at the report.

The committee was set up two years ago by the government to investigate the powers and functions of the islands councils in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Chaired by Sir David Montgomery the committee also examined the need for changes in legislation in either the national or local interest.

The islands councils have been a success, the committee states in its report, and every opportunity should be taken to consolidate, develop and extend their powers.

The committee states it found little to support in the Shetland Movement’s idea of a new legislative assembly with fund raising powers, adding that the evidence they heard showed any major changes would not be universally welcomed in the islands. A joint SIC and movement proposal for a Council of the Islands to vet national legislation and changes felt necessary for the islands was also rejected by the committee. Not only would this be difficult to work in practice, but any proposed changes should be taken up by elected councillors, either with the government or the MP, rather than by an appointed non-elected body as proposed.

50 Years Ago

Shetland Development Council has been replaced by Shetland Council of Social Services, a body with similar aims but with a constitution which should allow more freedom of action. Members of the old body, who recently voted in favour of the new organisation, met on Thursday in the Town Hall, when Mr Edward Thomason was appointed president.

Mr Prophet Smith was appointed to preside and welcomed about thirty members of the public. The Shetland Develop­ment Council, he said, no longer existed, and they were present for the purpose of establishing a new organisation.

Members had had plenty of time to study the constitution of the new body as set out clearly and fully in a pamphlet and Mr Smith would like a motion or discussion on that. Mr R.H. Ganson moved that they accept the constitution and was seconded by Mr R.A. Anderson.

Mr Jack Scott wished to move an amendment and quoted part of the objects – “To promote the general good of the people of Shetland, and to assist the work of statutory authorities and voluntary organisations engaged in advancing education, developing resources, furthering health, improving the skill of country craftsmen, relieving poverty, distress or sickness or in pursuing any objects which now or hereafter may be deemed by law to be charitable.” These objects, said Mr Scott, where not acceptable and far too airy-fairy. He would like to get it tied down to specific objects.

Mr Smith pointed out that some criticism levelled against the Development Council had been that the constitution had described its functions too clearly and stringently. Here they could do pretty well anything to promote the general good of the people of Shetland. Mr Scott maintained that the objects should be more concrete – as it was the Council could exist for years without doing anything. Mr T. Johnston replied that it could do the same with more definite objects. Mr Scott did not get a seconder and the meeting agreed to accept the constitution.

Mr Johnston moved that Mr E. Thomason be appointed president of the new Council and was seconded by Mr L. Robertson. It was agreed that the president should appoint his own vice-president.

The Development Council had not had much vigour, said Mr John Graham, but it had taken a lot of effort to complete the strangulation. Members had drifted apart, formed themselves into small committees and eventually turned in on themselves. Had anyone got ideas how they could enlist the support of the great body of apathetic people? Preparing reports and issuing clarion cries that the people rally round would not get support. They must DO something.

100 Years Ago

The oldest native in this district has just passed away. This was Bartle Hosea Robertson, who was born on the 22nd March, 1823, at Grimaster, the Herra, Yell, and died in the same place on 24th March, 1909, having just passed his 86th birthday.

He dwelt on a farm here, occupied by his father, and ever since by himself. He went to the haaf-fishing from the year 1842, when he fished in Unst, and from 1844 at the Fethaland station, until he was an elderly man. He married when about 30, and for many years had a severe struggle with life; but in latter years his children dwelt with him, he was treated with great kindness by his numerous household, and he had now begun to receive the old age pension since it began.

His family had dwelt here from time immemorial; and, like the old people of this district, he knew the names of half-a-dozen generations at least of his forefathers. In this case, his were in the male line David Laurenson, c.1682, William Davidson, Robert Williamson, Bartle Robertson, all these names being patronymic, until his own. His late brother, Robert Williamson, Westsandwick, however, was surnamed in the old way. This family had many branches elsewhere in Shetland, including the late William Jack Williamson, of Ulsta; Thomas Williamson, Millbrae, Baltasound; William James Williamson, once a well-known tailor at Lerwick, and others.

The deceased had several hairbreadth escapes, notably two, when his boat coming from the haaf in foggy weather passed over the vortex of the great Baa of Uyea, Northmavine; and on another occasion when the sea overwhelmed him at the west banks at the “crags”; both of which incidents he could recount with graphic force.

He was a very neighbourly, hospitable man, and very healthy until last spring when he had the influenza, and since when his heart was weak. On the night before his death he was at the fire and talked quite clearly, but next morning at 6 o’clock he was quietly breathing his last. He knew he was going, and died in the hope of a blessed resurrection.


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