Past Times: Britannia rules the waves

From The Shetland Times, Friday 5th August, 1960

If the Queen lands on Fair Isle on her way north to Lerwick, she will be the first member of the Royal Family to do so for 175 years.

It was in 1785 that H.R.H. Prince William, third son of George III and later William the IV landed on the island. Today the population is only about one fifth of what it was on the former visit but she will find most of the islanders going about their daily tasks and the young men will not be hiding in the cliffs.

Prince William served in the Royal Navy and in 1785 cruised in northern waters on the “Hebe”. After leaving Kirkwall the Hebe hove to off Fair Isle and the Prince landed along with a party of officers. The small boat grounded near the shore and they all had to wade ashore through the surf. The rank of the visitor was unknown and the islanders are recorded as having been extremely civil to the strangers although they showed no marked attention. As it was put to me “His Royal Highness returned to the ship unhonoured because unknown” but it was added “by this time all the young men were hiding in the bances” (cliffs).

The Hebe was just like any other revenue cutter or navy press-gang ship and when she hove to, it was time for all the young men to go for such hide-outs as the Hole o’ Guran or to the T’iefs Hole at the back of Malcolm’s Head. Then my informant remarked “They must have thought the isle was inhabited by women, old men and bairns.”

From what the Prince saw of the Orcadians and Fair Islanders, he is said to have greatly admired their honest simplicity and hospitable character . . . And if our Queen lands on Fair Isle on her visit to the Northern Isles she will find the same hospitality. If the island is left to its usual natural charm, unhampered by hosts of officials and what would be very much worse, mobs of reporters and photographers, the Royal party will have the freedom to move around unhindered by any pushing, surging masses and August, 1960, could well herald a new mode of Royal holiday.

Jerry Eunson


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