This week I’m writing about sheriff court records to do with a roup sale or auction at a farm in 1827.


William Moncrieff, a x3 great grandfather married Margaret Sinclair on 19 February 1824 in Orphir, Orkney. He was about 23 at the time, baptised in 1801. They had two daughters, Margaret born 1824 and Williamina born August 1827, my x2 great grandmother. A third child was stillborn.

Sadly William died in October 1827, still only in his twenties. His premature death may have occurred some days after a wrestling match over in Caithness in the north of Scotland. My late uncle is the source for this nugget though he was not quite sure whether it was William or his cousin, Hector Moncrieff, the laird of Houton. For a variety of reasons I think it is more likely to have been William.

Not only did William leave Margaret with two very young children but there were also debts.

Farm problems

From the Sheriff court records I learnt that William was the tenant of the farm of Sorpool (see map) on the Houton estate, Orphir, Orkney where his landlord was Robert Moncrieff. This man was his uncle, the older brother (possibly half-brother) of his father Samuel and lived on the other side of the bay at Houth.

About a month after William’s death, on 7 November 1827, Robert began court proceedings. William owed him £6 for the rent of Sorpool for crop year 1826 and the current year’s rent, £9, was due at Candlemas. Candelmas, 2 February, was one of the Scottish term days when rents were paid. Robert’s petition to Kirkwall Sheriff Court relates that Margaret, the widow, had taken over management of the farm but “his [William’s] affairs being in an involved and embarrassed situation his creditors are proceeding to attack his Subjects and effects, with the view of distributing the same amongst them”.

Robert was clearly afraid of being left with nothing, hence his petition. Therefore he requested that the Court send officers to Sorpool to make an inventory of “the whole corns Cattle household furniture and other moveable effects found thereon” which would then be sequestrated for paying the rents until a roup sale could be held to raise the required capital, including his expenses.

His petition, which is interesting enough in itself, was granted  But there is more for the court papers also include an Inventory of Effects sequestrated on the farm of Sorpool as well as brief details of what was sold.

Farm Stock

The inventory taken on 8 November 1827 (the sheriff’s officers didn’t waste time!) is fascinating, not least for the use of dialect words. Here it is:

1. A Black horned Cow
2. Two Small grices [pigs]
3-8. A Small Screw of corn in the Stack yard 4 fathoms, about one and a half weight (and five others)
9-14, A small Screw of Oats containing about a meal and a half (and five others)
15. A Stack of Hay Eighteen feet long & Seven feet high
16. In the Kiln Barn About Ten Barrels of Potatoes
17. An old Harrow hay wrick and Blue Painted Plow [plough]
18. About half a fathom of Coal Peats
19. About one Fathom Turf
20. About 500 cabbages

Dwelling house

  1. A Wooden Standing Bed Head close front
  2. An Old Wooden Bed Stead
  3. A Wooden Standing Press [cupboard]
  4. A Straw Bed Sack a Pillow of Feathers one and a half Pairs of Blankets and a Covering
  5. Two Casies containing a stone and a half of Bear [bere – a form of barley]
  6. A Milk Churn a Weight and Meal sive
  7. A Firwood Table
  8. Two Chairs & One Stool
  9. One tea Chest
  10. One Water Pail two metal Pots a Pair of Tongs some Blue edged Plates a Jar Bottle and a Crock

The outcome

The Roup was held on 7th December 1827 and raised £14 3 shillings, with the main sales being the stacks of corn and some hay, also one grice and six unspecified barrels, probably of potatoes. The household items, thankfully for the widow and family, do not appear to have gone. The purchasers’ names are all those of local men, one of them probably the father of William’s widow Margaret.

What did Robert Moncrieff make out of it? Well he recouped the rent for 1827 (£9) while most of the remainder of the £14 3 shillings was used up by various expenses incuding proofing, the roup expenses and witness payments. There was £1 19 shillings for servants wages – to run the farm from October to December? There is no further information.

Why the whole process anyway? I wonder if there was already some discord between uncle and nephew for this affair seems to go beyond good estate management. Perhaps there is something in this mix to account for my family’s story about losing the Houton estate.


By 1841 Margaret Sinclair, widow of William, was a straw plaiter as were her two daughters. The 1851 census records her as an inn-keeper, still in Orphir, living with her married daughter Williamina. She died in 1875 aged 75; cause of death old age.

Main source: Kirkwall Sheriff Court records. Petition Robert Moncrieff Houton Orphir  v Wm Moncrieff Sorpool Orphir. 7 November 1827. SC/11/5/1827/039. Orkney Archive, Kirkwall, Orkney.

A post on the two themes of “Unusual source” and “On the farm” for the #52Ancestors challenge.

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4 comments so far

  1. Margaret Forsyth says:

    As ever, so interesting. I have read about the Houton estate and its problems never knowing it to be so close to you, Jane. Wonderful reading.

  2. Anna Rogalski says:

    Fascinating story, especially mention of the wrestling. Poor William. Always worth checking wills on scotlandspeople because you never can tell who will have made a will. I was delighted to find an 1872 will, where my great great granny was her brother's executrix. In the inventory I learned of a piece of furniture which was new to me; a fir tent bed with curtains!
    By the way, in Caithness we use the words grice, casies and screw, too.

    1. Janealogy says:

      Yes the wrestling is quite a thing. And just too early for the John O Groat Journal. The Moncrieffs were very bad at leaving wills and sorting succession unfortunately, court records in both Orkney and Edinburgh have been a better source for me.

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