Catholic Europe has celebrated fatherhood since the Middle Ages on 16 March, St Joseph’s Day.  Here in the UK Father’s Day is much more recent and falls on 17 June this year. There’s practically no-one in my tree with a birthday on those dates or called Joseph, so in the spirit of commercialism, which now epitomises Father’s Day in the UK, I’m writing about a shopkeeper, and father, for the #52ancestors “Father’s Day” theme.

James Ross (1818-1876)

He wasn’t born in Orkney but in the island of Stroma, part of the parish of Canisbay, Caithness, on 29 January 1818. James’ older brother Hugh was my x 2 great grandfather; they were two of Walter Ross and Charlotte Green’s nine children.

Life in Orkney

In the mid-1830s, the Ross family crossed the Pentland Firth and settled in Walls, Orkney. They were fruitful and multiplied for by 1861, Ross was one of the most common surnames in North Walls and Brims. The surname fluctuates a little, Ross, Rosie, Rossie, but that is for another blog.

James married Susannah Corrigill on 16 November 1844 and they had a family of eight, four girls and four boys. Susannah died in June 1861 followed by the oldest son, Walter, two months later and the youngest, John, in 1869.

James himself died on 2 February 1876. As he was “rowing across the Bay of Longhope at night, from south to north, the boat is supposed to have upset, in the squally weather, and its occupant drowned. On Thursday morning the boat was found driven ashore on the beach.”(The Orcadian, Longhope [News] 12 February 1876 p3 column d)


In the 1851 census, James’ occupation was fisherman and pilot, like his Stroma ancestors before him no doubt. When his third son, James, was born on 22 July 1855, his occupation was merchant. The 1861 census specified grocer.  As he lived at North Ness, North Walls, from at least the birth of his eldest daughter Jemima in 1846, I assume the shop was there too. He may well have taken over from his father-in-law, Donald Corrigill, also a merchant.

North Ness

Interestingly, the very brief death notice in The Orcadian ( 12 February 1876 p3 column a) describes him as a pilot while the actual death registration says merchant. In reality, he may well have done both, with some ship chandler work too, North Ness, being ideally placed, right on the shore of a busy anchorage.

Shop stock

The inventory of James’ shop stock after he died was very varied and includes valuations in pounds, shillings and pence (L.s.d). Among the stock were:

  • 40 yards of cotton £013.4
  • 51½ yards of flannel £3.17.3
  • 100 yards of ticking £3.6.8. [Ticking was used for mattress and pillowcase covers]
  • 37 yards duck £1.7.9. [Cloth used for various sea related purposes, including clothing possibly]
  • 63 lbs various kinds of nails £1.3.7½
  • 4 small kettles, 6 frying pans £0.13.0
  • 2 cwt sugar £1.17.4. [Cwt = hundredweight or 112 lbs] (Imperial measures of weight)
  • 40 lbs tea @ 2/- [two shillings] £4.0.0
  • 30 lbs syrup £0.6.3
  • 18 lbs twist tobacco £3.7.6
  • 1 cwt washing soda £0.9.4
  • 3 zinc pails £0.3.0
  • 4 old barrels £0.4.8
  • 6 school slates £0.1.6
  • 1 gross of stay laces (very old), £0.2.6. [A gross is 12 dozen or 144]. “Stays”  are/were a type of corset; the word was still used in Orkney in my childhood.
  • 6 chest locks £0.4.0
  • 200 fishing hooks £0.5.0

The stock list is not long, total valuation was £84.9.6½, but it may hint at a population who made their own clothes and food, washed, went to the fishing and, perhaps, no longer wore corsets! Equally, much of his stock could have been for the shipping that called at Longhope. And not a Father’s Day card mentioned though there was a “a lot of wrapping paper £0.2.6”. (Kirkwall Sheriff Court Wills. 20 June 1876. Inventory. Ross, James. NRS SC11/38/9)

James has featured incidentally, at least twice, in my blog; he was the father of Jemima and grandfather of James AF Bruce.


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