Broo o’ brinkie, eye o’ life

“Broo o’ brinkie, eye o life, bubbly jock, pen knife” This rhyme is laden with memories of granny, my paternal grandmother, reciting it to me, touching my forehead (broo), eyes, nose (bubbly jock) and mouth (pen knife). Passing on more than names and dates Now, over fifty years later, I recite the same rhyme with  |  more…

“Fatal termination of the late accident with firearms”

Thomas Slater died on 6 May 1868 in Kirkwall, Orkney, as the result of “a gunshot wound, tetanus 4 days”, according to his death registration. He was just 18 and a younger brother of one of my maternal great grandfathers, William H Slater. It is from newspapers that I learned more about the circumstances of  |  more…

Stick in

“Stick in”, a phrase I associate with James Slater, Pa as we called him, my maternal grandfather. Born in poverty, he crossed the globe, returned to Orkney, bought and grew his own farm, working hard and innovatively. (It should also be said that I write from the perspective of the first child of his favourite  |  more…

Nice moniker

Helen McCaulay Ritch. That name stands out among my ancestors; it has a nice ring to it. Helen was a great-great-grandmother on my father’s side, wife of Ralph Nicolson. She was born in Rackwick, Hoy, Orkney on 10 March 1815, the second known daughter of Thomas Ritch and Ann Mckay. I came across Helen fairly  |  more…

Of smuggling and press-gangs

“A considerable degree of acuteness and shrewdness is observed among the population”, wrote the Rev Peter Jolly in 1840, describing his flock in the parish of Canisbay, Caithness. Walter Ross, my x 3 grandfather, had lately been one of them. Walter – in outline He was born on 17 August 1786, the son of Hugh  |  more…