Harold, king of Norway, having invaded and subdued both clusters of islands, in the end of the 9th century, created an earldom of Orkney, in the person of one Ronald, a worthy ba ron, from whom,' we are told with no small triumph, the monarch who now sways the British sceptre is descended!' This distinguished person, however, did not find it convenient to accept of the dignity; but he prevailed with the king to transfer it to his brother Sigurd. Zetland was included in the earldom, but, being considered a subordinate part of it, was seldom dignified with much notice by the Earls: Except in one or two instances,' the Doctor solemnly affirms, none of them honoured it with even a temporary residence, for any considerable time.' (I. 31.)

[ocr errors]

Dr Edmondston relates from Torfæus, and with very laudable gravity, the awkward accident which deprived the Zetlanders of their first worthy Earl. After having gained on one occasion a complete victory, the Earl directed each of his horsemen to suspend, from his saddle, by way of trophy, the head of a fallen enemy, and Sigurd himself carried one among the rest; suddenly clapping spurs to his horse, a large front tooth in the mouth of the knight whose head hung dangling by his side, struck him on the calf of the leg, and wounded him so severely, that the part mortified, and he died soon after.' (I. 33.)

The next remarkable Earl of Orkney was Einar, a natural son of the Count of Merca. He distinguished himself by first point ing out to the inh bitants a mode of obtaining fuel from turf, as all the wood had been exhausted.' This sagacious nobleman' was therefore surnamed the Turf Earl, or Torf-Einar. It is said to be a curious circumstance in the history of this discovery, that Einar should have found it necessary to send his people to Caithness for turf, while the islands themselves,' as Dr Edinoudston assures us, at that time abounded in this substance.' (I. 35.) The sons of the King of Norway had good taste enough, it seems, to take it violently amiss, that such a splendid principality should be enjoyed by the bastard son of one of their father's subjects. They therefore very prudently murdered the aged Count of Merca in Norway; atter which, one of them, named Halfdan, invaded Orkney. The Turf Earl, however, got the better of the invader, and murdered him in his turn. He then ordered Halfdan's lungs to be cut cut, and offered up to Odin; and he himself delivered an extempore address to the manes of his father, during the celebration of the sacrifice.' (I. 37.)

[ocr errors]

About the year 985, Christianity was introduced into the islands; but did not immediately put an end to those atrocides. The king of Norway getting Sigurd the Second into his

[blocks in formation]


allowed him no choice between baptism and death. The Earl naturally chose the lesser evil, and professed the faith; where. upon the king, with rather more of the spirit of his religion, left divines and learned men' to instruct the people.

It would be tedious to accompany the Doctor in his detail of the names of the different holders of the earldom, and his stories about mysterious' fatal vestments,' and the adventures of accomplished young noblemen' of those times; one of whom, we are told, established light-houses over all the islands of Orkney, (speculatoria or alarm-towers, we presume, on which a fire could occasionally be lighted as a signal); and another possessed so much philosophical composure and poetical taste, that, after suffering shipwreck in Zetland, while he sat on the rocks waiting the approach of daylight, he amused himself by composing extempore poems.' (I. 56.)

[ocr errors]

The obscure voyage of Nicolo Zeno, the noble Venetian, in 1380, affords ground for some conjectures; but still shows the great uncertainty which exists respecting the history of these islands, even in the fourteenth century. The Friesland of Zeno, Dr Edmondston agrees with Forster in considering as Orkney; and Estland, as Zetland. The Mimant of Zeno is supposed to be Mainland, the name of the largest of the Zetland islands; Iscant, to be Unst; and so of others. These names,' it is remarked, though somewhat different from those at present in use, have nothing to which they so nearly correspond, in Feroe, Orkney, or the Hebrides. ' (I. 70.) Martin Forbisher, it is added, was sent by Queen Elizabeth, in 1567, to try and discover a north-west passage to India.' In latitude 61° N. he fell in with a land, which he took to be the Friesland of Zeno. This is indeed nearly the latitude of Zetland; but Forbisher declares that the land was surrounded with a great quantity of ice!

In 1468, James III. of Scotland having obtained the Princess of Denmark in marriage, her portion was fixed at 60,000 florins: 2000 only were paid down, and the islands of Orkney were impledged for 50,000, and those of Zetland for the remaining 8000. When the Princess produced a son, heir to the throne of Scotland, his Danish Majesty renounced all thoughts of redeeming those pledges. Soon afterwards, the earldom was also resigned into the hands of the Scotish king, and the islands were annexed to the Crown by act of Parliament. In 1566, the unfortunate Queen Mary raised her favourite Bothwell to the dignity of Duke of Orkney,-just in time to secure him a temporary lurking-place among the islands.

appears to

Zetland, about this time,' our author remarks, have been but imperfectly known, even to the Scots themselves.

In proof of this, he tells us, that the learned and elegant Buchanan describes it as a distant and almost uninhabited land, of singular sterility.' From this description, we should be inclined to draw precisely an opposite conclusion, and to infer that the islands were pretty well known to the learned historian.

[ocr errors]

In the year 1600, Earl Patrick Stewart received a grant of the islands; and in the same year he built the castle of Scalloway, the ruins of which still remain. In rearing this edifice, he compelled as many of the people to work as he chose; and in order to supply him and his numerous followers with provisions, the peasants were obliged to bring in regularly sheep and cattle to the castle, and, on their failing to procure the articles in kind, they were under the necessity of making up the deficiency in money. This imposition, once established, was afterwards recognized as a regular tax, under the denomination of sheep and oxmoney.' (I. 93.) The rapacity of this Earl led him into crimes, which at last brought him to the scaffold; but the unjust exaction of sheep and ox-money' was somehow continued; and forms an item of the crown rents to the present day.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

At the very close of the 17th century, the General Assembly of [the Church of] Scotland sent a commission, consisting of seven ministers and one ruling elder, to settle the church affairs of Orkney and Zetland. Mr Brand was one of the number; and he published, on his return to Edinburgh, a curious account of both these countries.'* I. 98.

In the course of the 18th century, the Morton family received different grants of the islands, which were successively recalled; the Parliament of Scotland, it seems, being always indignant at the Sovereign's parting with so great a jewel of the crown." Soon after the union of the kingdoms, however, a new grant was made to this family, in which were included, for the first time, the droits of admiralty, and a lease of the church-lands and tithes. In 1747, the Earl received indemnification for the loss of such of his prerogatives as were struck at by the act for abolishing heritable jurisdictions in Scotland. In 1766, he sold all his remaining rights in Orkney and Zetland to Sir Lawrence Dundas, whose son and successor, Lord Dundas, now holds the


One of the most remarkable features in the present state of the Zetland islands, is, that though they contain 22,379 inhabitants, they are in no shape represented in the British Parliament. Orkney and Zetiand form one county: Orkney pays two parts of the cess, and Zetland pays one; yet, the latter has

A Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland,' &c. Edin. 1701.

has no vote in the election of a member of parliament.' That they have a right to a share in the national representation, seems to us beyond doubt; and, upon general views of political justice and expediency, it is certainly to be desired that they should obtain it. But they who have had an opportunity of con paring the cordial hospitality, the internal harmony and individadi independence of the better classes among the Zetlanders, with the political jealousies and rancours and intrigues that disturbs the peace, and divide the society of their neighbours in Orkney, will be inclined to doubt whether the boon would be attended with any immediate increase of their own happiness and respecobility.

From the history of the islands we pass to the consideration of their remains of antiquity, language and literature.

The Picts-burghs, as Dr Edmondston calls them, or Pechs brochs as we would rather incline to denominate them, have often been described; and we here find nothing new concerning them. In Urst, some concentric circles of stones occur, which the author thinks it probable refer to some primeval religion, rather than to the sepulchres of the dead.' (I. 120.) Possibly they refer' to nether; but are the remains of things, or places where justice was publicly dispensed.

Triangular polished stones [pieces] of green porphyry' are citen found, and are called thunderbolts It has been suggested, that these may probably have been axes. The Doctor seems to think that he disproves this notion by remarking, that, being polished and tapering to a point, they could not readily be grasped with suficient firmness to be wielded as a hatchet; forgetting altogether that the polished stone now found in Zetland may have been culy the head of the hatchet, which was bound to a shaft, probably in a manner similar to what we see in the stone axes brought from the South Sea islands, which are common in our museams. The Doctor is, however, resolved to find some use for these thunderbolts; and he at last comes out with the extravagant conjecture, that it is possible that they might have beca intended to supply the place of a breast-plate!' (I. 121.)

Fiat-heads of arrows, too, have been found at different times :' but we are not told where, nor by whom; nor does the Doctor make a single remark on their occurrence,-not being aware, apparently, of the importance of the statement in the controversy which at present divides our most diligent and intelligent antiquarice.*

* Mr Chalmers says, that found in the Orkney islands;


celts and flint arrow heads have been while none of these have ever been


Dr Edmondston does not think that the Romans ever visited Zetland; the mare pigrum et grave' mentioned by Tacitus having probably repressed their curiosity. Some remains, however, of square camps, he says, may be traced, and some few Roman coins have been found in the islands. It would have been agreeable, if the traces of encampments alluded to had been described and figured-and if the age to which the coins belonged had been specified.

Under this head of Antiquities, we have pretty ample descriptions of two ruincus houses or castles-one at Scalloway, the building of which has been already alluded to-and another at Muness, with an account of the law-tings, or ancient courts of justice, with their fowds and rancelmen." It would seem, both Beltane (May-day), and Yule (Christmas), are festivals with the Zetlanders; although the former is of Celtic, and the latter of Pictish origin.

The common language of the islands was formerly Scandina vian and Norwegian. The island of Unst, the most northerly of the group, was its last abode; and, not more than thirty years ago, several individuals there could speak it fluently. At present, there is scarcely a single person who can repeat even a few words of it. The present language of the islands,' the Doctor adds, is certainly English; though he is afterwards obliged to confess, that good English is rarely spoken. The common dialect is a mixture of Norwegian, Scandinavian, Dutch, and English.' I. 112.

The Doctor now proceeds to the chapter of Agriculture.

The enclosed and improved land in Zetland, including both arable and meadow, does not amount to a twelfth part of the whole surface of the country. This improved land is divided into merks and ures. A merk, it is said, should contain 1600 square fathoms; and an ure is the eighth part of a mork,' The average quantity of infick land in a Zetland farm, is five merks; or from three to five English acres; for a merk varies in extent in different places. The rent is from 103. to 15s. an acre; but the amount varies according as the tenant has the exclusive disposal of his labour, or agrees to fish to his landholder [landlord.]'

discovered in the Shetland lands. And he adds- This evinces, that the Celtic people who colonized Scuth and North Britain, also penetrated into the Orkney, but not into the Shetland islands; and this fact also shows that those several antiquities owe their origin to the Celts, who early colonized the Orkney islands alone; and got to the Scandinavians, who equally colorized both the Orkney and Shetland alands. Caledonia, 1. 251.

« VorigeDoorgaan »