« AnteriorContinuar »
We learned afterwards that about the year 1600, Earl Patrick, of Orkney, commenced the erection of Scalloway castle, and it is scarcely possible to conceive a more flagrant exercise of oppression than that which really occurred during the erection of this structure.
“ Fellow by the hand of nature mark’d,
Quoted and sign'd, to do a deed of shame,"
laid a tax upon each parish in the county, obliging the Shetlanders to find as many men as were required for the building, as well as furnish provisions for the workmen. The penalty for not fulfilling this requisition was forfeiture of property. The building was soon perfected; its turreted walls rising from the naked shores of Hialtland with all the feudal haughtiness of a regular baronial mansion, appearing to mock the humble habitations of the ancient udallers.
It is said that when the pious minister of the parish came to pay his respects to the lord of the new mansion, he was called upon for a suitable text to affix to the stone forming the frontispiece of the house, and without fear, “remembering the sinful enormity of that overbearing oppression which had enforced its structure,” quoted the parable of the house built on a rock, and that constructed on sand, to the dismay of his host. At first he resolved to condemn the poor
man to instant imprisonment; but afterwards a compromise was effected, and the result was the following inscription, which is still partly legible :
PATRICIUS STEWARDUS, ORCADIÆ ET ZETLANDIE
This Patrick Stewart eventually was deservedly executed for some, or more likely for all, the crimes he had been guilty of.
During our short stay at Lerwick, we learned many other curious particulars respecting the ancient habits and customs of this remote branch of the Celtic family, and being limited for time, instead of visiting, as we gladly would have done, the many curious records of remote antiquity which are plentifully scattered over the islands in the shape of mounds, circles, runic stones, ancient tower churches, inscribed memorials, “ standing stones,” and other antiquarian objects, we sat and listened to tales of witchcraft, the influences of the “evil eye,” and other abominations of the “good old times.” We endured also the depressing effects of stories of savagery committed by the feudal chiefs, that only equalled, though they do not surpass in barbarous injustice, the revolting and iniquitous state
of things known as the “ truck system,” which is rife at the present hour amongst these industrious people.
Gladly did we turn from these horrors to listen to the story of the Orkney man Einar, who is deservedly regarded as the great benefactor of the Shetlands, inasmuch as to him is attributed the discovery of peat fuel—a substitute for wood or coal. At the present day, when the peat is removed—as we saw the operation performed-in many places the gravel which underlies this deposit is thickly covered with the roots of hazel, willow, and birch trees, proving that this treeless region was once blessed with umbrageous woods. To Einar the people owed their comfortable fires during the long winter season; in return, the grateful Shetlanders almost deified their benefactor, and to this day he is known as Torf Einar. We heard, too, of the long suffering, patient endurance of the martyr St. Magnus, of the thirteenth century, whose fame is preserved by the church dedicated to him, and the Bay which bears his name.
This little town of Lerwick is as quaint a place to stop at as the traveller will find anywhere. The houses. are inconveniently crowded together, some stand on the margin of the water, and the narrow passages which serve as streets are so ill contrived they but add to the
general confusion ; steep flights of stairs, and houses on opposite sides actually joined together above, span the thoroughfares in many places. The hotel is situated in one of these narrow ways, or “entries” as they are called. While we were there, the whole village wore. a busy aspect, which may have been unusual ; certainly the cause was not far to seek, for two hundred of the inhabitants, grown weary, perhaps, of the continual privations they were forced to endure during the long winter, had resolved to emigrate, and the town was filled with their friends, who had come in from the country round to wish them God speed on their setting out for better fortunes in the New World.
When the hour for parting came the men did not show unwillingness to leave, but the new accessions to our crew had little time to get their things together, and overstayed their time. We had secured the services of a carpenter and four additional hands, so that our party now numbered seventeen people, and, judging from appearances, we were likely enough to have a pleasant time of it in the north, where there would be plenty of sport; if the formidable array of whaling and sealing weapons, as well as the well appointed armoury, could be any guarantee for our success. We have much serious work to occupy us as well; the many costly scientific instruments plainly indicate this
fact, as they are being stowed away with the care and attention such things so imperatively demand.
The water-tanks we brought with us, capable of holding forty tons, were soon filled ; these receptacles were destined eventually to carry the oil and blubber of such animals as we might be fortunate enough to capture on our way. On the 28th of May we were ready for the sea, but the men seemed evidently anxious to linger as much as possible along shore, and all our efforts to draw them away from such allurcments as held them enthralled proved unavailing, until we hit upon a plan which soon brought them to their senses. We declared our intention of sailing at a certain hour, and without waiting to comply with the thousand appeals made to us for further time, we were up and off. Strange what alacrity was shown when they discovered we were in earnest.
There was only one poor fellow amongst them who manifested the slightest trace of jollity in his composition, and he was overcome with drink. From the incoherent scraps of the song he sung, we concluded he came deeply moved from a recent parting scene with some young Shetland lass. We watched him as he made frantic efforts to keep his legs, and heard him endeavour to lilt out a dolorous love ditty at the same time.