Times Past 05.06.09

25 Years Ago

“The Old Rock”, Friday 8th June 1984. European Election: By the time this newspaper is on sale next week the voters of the Highlands and Islands will have made their choice – although it will be another three days before the result is announced. If there is any outstanding feature of the “campaign” it is the general apathy of the electorate. In the past we have never failed to encourage readers to exercise their democratic rights by voting at elections and, indeed, have frequently suggested which candidate could best command their support. The former adjuration we repeat; the latter we cannot confidently suggest.

All that we can say is that the most useful vote will be that for the candidate most likely to press for changes in the European system so that five years from now a larger proportion of the electorate will wish to cast a vote. Which candidate in this constituency meets the criterion? All may be willing but is anyone able.

50 Years Ago

Before leaving Shetland at the end of his four-day tour last week, Lord Forbes, Minister of State for Scotland, said there were four main points for expanding Shetland’s economy – fishing, agriculture, the woollen industry and tourism.

All of these would need energetic action by the people of Shetland themselves. It was not only a question of the Government doing something.

Lord Forbes said he had had a most interesting and enjoyable tour, and he left knowing considerably more, not only about the problems facing Shetland today, but considerably more about the islanders themselves.

The following matters were raised during the minister’s visit: Over-Fishing: Both the County Council and Fishermen’s Association raised the question of overfishing in the North Sea. In that connection, Lord Forbes said the advice the Scottish Office had was that over-fishing was not going on, and that the stocks of fish were not being affected. However, they would keep their eyes on this matter, and should it come to notice that stocks were deteriorating under the North-East Atlantic Convention, which was signed last year, and to which the Russians and the Poles were signatories, they could take measures to ensure something was done.

Unemployment: The Town Council raised the question of unemployment, with particular reference to the 15-18 age groups. They pointed out that the bulge of school leavers was affecting this part of the country earlier than the remainder of Scotland. In 1958 there were 45 per cent, more school leavers than in 1956, but by 1962 the figure would be reduced to 34 per cent. It was in 1962 that the bulge was expected to be reached in other parts of Scotland.

Crofting Grants: The County Council asked if the owner-occupier of crofts could get the same grants as crofters. Lord Forbes had told them that the matter was being looked into at present by the Crofters Commission. The Council also raised very strongly the view that the Crofters Commission commissioner for this area should be resident in the islands, so that he could be in touch with the crofters all the time.

100 Years Ago

J. Spence visits the Westing School, Unst. – I am back here amidst the scenes of my childhood, after an absence of 32 years. Every spot of ground, every burn and brae, every rock and geo, are familiar to me, and awaken memories of the past.

I entered this school as a pupil in June, 1846. My stock of school books consisted of a New Testament and a mother’s catechism; and my first reading lesson was St John’s Gospel, chapter i, verses one to five. By the end of the first year I was advanced to the “Bible class”, with the shorter catechism and “Proofs”. I treated these sacred books with the same supreme indifference, as the schoolboy of today treats his “Star” or “Royal” reader. But in later years I found my memory stored, my mind saturated, with the comforting words of the scriptures – an acquisition I would not exchange for all the information contained in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In November, 1866, I entered this school as its teacher, an appointment which I held for 10 years. The attendance at that time was nearly double what it is now, and the scholars were not mere children, but young men and young women. Lads who had been at the “West Ice” or Greenland, had made a North American voyage, or had joined a “haaf” boat, came back to school in those days. One of the lads I remember well, Tom Moar – now Captain Thomas Moar, of Liverpool – learned the theory of navigation with me during a winter at home.

That which is most remarkable to me here is the change that appears to be stamped upon everything. It is true that the Arn’s Hammer, grim and hoary, sphinx-like gazes toward the setting sun, as it did of yore. Lamba Stack still towers its giant head like a stern sentinel in front of Aynjfra Nib. The Blue Mull, the Vere and the Boer will bid defiance to the northern wave, while Nivva Baa, Sudderim Baa and the Foostera vie with each other in their wild commotion and angry roar. But even these are slightly changed by the corroding hand of time and the war of elements.

It is in man that change is most apparent. Every house has got a new tenant. All the old tenants that I remember have removed to their “long home”. Of the companions of my schoolboy days I only find for in the district, happy in receipt of Old Age Pensions.

I can think of nothing more gratifying to a teacher than to hear of the success of his old pupils. Only a week or so ago I came across a cutting from the Sydney Mail of 27th January 1909, in which an honourable reference is made to an old schoolboy of mine, viz., Mr Edward Smith, of Underhoull. From under the heading “Fire precautions – a new switchboard”, I make the following extract: “A new electric switchboard, designed and constructed by the electrical and mechanical staff, under the direction of Mr Edward Smith, was formally opened yesterday at headquarters, 27 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. The chairman of the board said: ‘This switchboard, which marks a great distinction for Mr Edward Smith, the chief electrician, is regarded as the most up-to-date in the southern hemisphere. It is built in three sections, the middle section being used for telephone and fire alarms, and the end sections for electric lighting, and testing purposes, and for fire detection respectively. A barometer, water pressure gauge, volt and amperemeters are fitted to the switchboard for record purposes.’”

It will be seen from the above that Mr Smith, during his stay in the Antipodes, has got a comprehensive grasp of a subject that in his school days was almost as little known, and understood, as the “Philosopher’s stone” or the “Grand elixir”.


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.