Monday, April 11, 2016

The Shilling: Rambling Recollections of my School & School Days – Part E

Article IV written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign on 14 October 1880 – Part E

St Andrews Cathedral in 1845  - Hill and Adamson

“Happily these things [superstitions] have passed away from amongst us, and I daresay we feel rather ashamed of ourselves that we should have been so silly as to have countenanced them at all. One reason for these superstitious ideas lingering so long amongst people was the limited intercourse there was with the outer world. The only means of travelling was on foot, or by the mail coach, a luxury which only the rich could indulge in. I have known students trudging it all the way to Aberdeen or St. Andrews to prosecute their studies.”

University of St Andrews Fife
The University of St Andrews is the oldest in Scotland, 
having been officially established in 1413. 

Elphinstone Hall Kings College Aberdeen.

“The only conveyance by sea was a small sailing craft, the “Janet” of Leith, which was neither safe nor speedy. I have known people detained three weeks on the passage between Wick and Leith, and at times they had some very narrow escapes from shipwreck. This craft did not always escape as she went down with all on board one stormy night, which I remember well as she rested on anchor in Portmahomack Bay.”

Tarbat Ness Portmahomack Lighthouse

Stormy Day at Portmahomack Harbour

“Travelling was so little practised in those days that a sight of a live person who had been to Edinburgh and back was considered as great a wonder as the sight of a white elephant. They were looked up to with as much reverence and awe as if they had descended from the stars.”

“There was another shipwreck about this time on our coast the Freemason of Findhorn bound for the southern market with a cargo of herrings from Wick…was embalmed in a fog off the shore…The crew aware that they were in danger…..left the ship….”

My Comments:

I cannot decipher any more from the scan I have access to, but more of Alexander Gunn's article is quoted elsewhere:

“Another shipwreck about this time on our coast was that of the 'Freemason' bound for the southern markets with a cargo of herring from Wick. My father (John Gunn) was engaged to look after the wreck and discharge the cargo which was done without loss, the weather continuing fine, but the ship was holed and remained to be smashed against the cliff shore. I handled my first shilling at this time. When Mr Davidson, owner of either the ship or the cargo or both, was settling with my father, he presented me with a shilling to my great joy, and it took no small skill and perseverance on the part of my mother, to get possession of it lest I should drop it or lose it.”   Source: Roydhouse Archives

The Herring Industry, Wick

The Shilling

Alexander Gunn had the most extraordinary memory. The facts of the two shipwrecks he talks about, are confirmed in newspaper articles, but as Alexander was born on 3 Dec 1820 and the wrecks happened in 1824 and 1826 he was only a wee bairn of 4 and 6 years old at the time. The gift of the shilling was obviously a very significant event in both Alexander’s young life and for his family where money was so scarce – I can well imagine his mother Marion’s concern to keep the coin safe.
Sandy (or James) Linton, his boat and bairns.jpg

The “Janet”

The loss of the Janet on 24 Nov 1826 was reported in Leith on 1 Dec 1826:

The Janet, of this port, a regular trader to Helmsdale, is totally lost in the Murray Frith (Moray Firth), and it is feared all on board drowned. She had on board a number of passengers.


The “Freemason”

The list of shipwrecks for 1824 confirms the Freemason


Several newspapers briefly reported the loss of the Freemason

“….the ship was driven ashore and wrecked between Helmsdale, Sutherland and Berriedale, Caithness in mid-November. Her crew were rescued. The Times, London 25 Nov1824

The Freemason of Findhorn was wrecked last week between Helmsdale and Berriedale. The crew and great part of the cargo saved.
Aberdeen 20 Nov 1824

Canmore also notes from the Marine List, the loss of the Freemason, stating she was classified as a sloop, with a cargo of herrings. The vessel was wrecked at Achnacarry (Achnacraig) between Helmsdale and Berriedale. The date of loss was 10 Nov 1824.

The Moray Firth looking out to sea near Achnacraig

Travel to Edinburgh

Backing up the wonder with which a visit to Edinburgh invoked, my mother Joy McLeod, recalled her grandfather Alexander McLeod telling her he had helped drive a mob of sheep from Caithness to Edinburgh and thinking he had arrived at fairyland

Whilst this old map is hard to read – it is divided into three sections and shows the route from Tain to Wick. It also shows the miles to be covered to reach Edinburgh – a long way on foot.

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