Rev. Charles CLOUSTON on Sandwick in 1842


‘Parish of Sandwick’ (Synod and County of Orkney, Presbytery of Cairston)
by the Rev. Charles Clouston, Minister. (Part iii)
From ‘The Statistical Account of the Orkney Islands by the Ministers of the Respective Parishes...’
[William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh 1842]

The second grave [This was 1 foot 10 inches, by 1 foot 3 inches across the middle, but far from square, and 2 feet deep.] was nearly one foot south of the former, and consisted of four flags, set up on a floor of flag, with a heap of bones, similar to those in the first. The third was at the south side, close by the west corner of the second, and was very simple, being merely a cavity in the earth, covered by a stone on which we were treading, and being so low, without any upright flags about it, it escaped observation till we were about to leave the tumulus. It contained pieces of bone of a larger size than the former two, and a few pieces of a vitrified substance, like a parcel of peas, with a vesicular internal structure, and of a whitish appearance, as if it were vitrified bone. The other three resembled the more common graves that are generally found in the lesser tumuli, differing from each other in size and structure, but all more or less filled with ashes, of a reddish colour, apparently of peat, interspersed with very small bits of bone. [The fourth grave lay on the east side of the first, with a space of three feet between ; internally, it was 2 feet 10 inches long, by 2 feet 3 inches broad, the inner row 6 inches below the level of the outer; 9 inches below that, was a small cover-stone, and at the bottom, 6 inches of peat ashes, with bits of bone. The fifth lay two feet south of the last, and was about 3 feet 5 inches, by 2 feet 3 inches. It was formed by a single row of flags without any cover. On the top was 6 inches of clay, and below that, about 9 inches of ashes and bone. The sixth lay three feet from the north-west corner of the first, and was the rudest of all. It measured 2 feet by 1 foot 2 inches.]

All of these graves lay with one end north north-east, except the sixth, which was directed north-east. This resemblance between the fourth and first is worthy of notice, --that it also consisted of a double row of flags on all sides except the south, next to the fifth, where it was single.

I do not think that it would be either interesting or useful to describe minutely the graves in all the tumuli that I have seen opened during the last year, or heard of being opened previously ; for though they vary a little in size, shape, and direction, there is a strong similarity between them, the largest being 2 feet 9 inches by 2 feet, and the smallest 1 foot 2 inches by 10½ inches ; and the direction of those that I have had an opportunity of observing, varies only two points of the compass from north by east, to north-east by north, and they all contained peat ashes mixed with bits of bone. I leave it to those more competent to the task, to speculate on these facts. One thing, however, seems evident, that these tumuli are the burying-places of a people who burned their dead, and it seems probable that the rich were buried in the larger and more costly tumuli, and that their bodies were burnt in such a way as to prevent their remains from being mingled with peat ashes : and the bits of charcoal found in one of the graves seem to indicate that this was used as the fuel, at least on some occasions, while the poor were interred in the smaller tumuli, along with ashes of the peats, which consumed their remains.

An ancient and interesting grave was also found last year, on the farm of Downby, by the proprietor, from the plough accidentally coming in contact with its cover stone. It contained a human skeleton, which could not be got out entire, but which seemed to have been buried in a sitting posture, and at the right hand lay a mallet head of gneiss, finely marked with dark and light layers, and beautifully polished, now in the museum in Stromness. The head lay north-west by north. [This grave was 4 feet 2½ inches, by 2 feet 11 inches, and 2 feet 9 inches deep formed of flag only about an inch thick. The cover was 6½ feet long, 4 feet 2 inches broad, and 6½ inches thick. The mallet is 3 inches long, about G in circumference at the thickest end, and has a hole quite through, apparently for a handle, about seven-tenths of an inch in diameter.]


The amount of the population at each census, taken at the four last periods, was 970, 922, 930, and 973, or, including 46 seamen, 1019 ; but when I took an account of my parishioners in 1833, visiting every cottage, I found it amounted to 1088, and, according to the present return for this Account, it is 1056.

The yearly average number of births for the last seven years is 31 2/7
Deaths 18
Marriages * 7 3/7
The number of persons under 15 years of age 413
The number of persons between 15 and 30 292
The number of persons between 30 and 50 245
The number of persons between 50 and 70 119
The number of persons upwards of 70 17
Number of proprietors of land of the yearly value of £50 and upwards, including the Crown 2
Number of unmarried men, bachelors, and widowers, upwards of 50 years of age 20
Number of unmarried women upwards of 45 36
Average number of children in each family having them 4 1/6
The number of insane, 2; fatuous, 5; blind, 2; deaf and dumb, 2; total 11
The number of families with children, 164; without them,38;** total 202

* The marriages registered last seven years are 56, but 18 females and 4 males belonged to other parishes: deducting the latter, who would probably take their wives to their own homes with them, we obtain the above number.

** In many cases, there are females living in cots by themselves, which makes the number of families appear greater.

Gaelic has never been spoken here ; and I know of no customs, games, or amusements, peculiar to this people.

If the work of cleanliness has begun, it is yet far from perfected. In their persons and dress, I believe there has been some improvement in this respect, but it must be very limited, till they have houses that are clean, in which it would be possible to keep their persons so. At present, most of them are wretched hovels, with holes in the roof instead of chimneys, which permit that part of the smoke to escape, that is knowing enough to find it; but most of the soot attaches itself to the roof and rafters, whence it descends again on the inmates.

Another hole in the roof, about six inches square, and often without glass, is the substitute for a window ; and cows, calves, pigs, geese, and fowls, share the benefit of the peat fire, placed on the middle of the floor for the accommodation of all. Their food is as simple as can be imagined. Oat and bear-meal, with milk in various forms, potatoes, cabbage, and sometimes fish, is their ordinary diet ; and most indulge in a little flesh and ale at Christmas, or other holidays. Of their poor cots, many are only tenants at will, and on this account, as well as others connected with their state of vassalage, though many have peace and plenty, I cannot say that all enjoy, in a reasonable degree, the comforts of society and civilization, as so much depends on their landlord.

The general character of the people, intellectual, moral, and religious, is, I believe, much like that of their neighbours, who have been placed in the same unfavourable circumstances, living in a parish united to another, with public worship only once a fortnight, and no resident clergyman. I have the gratification of noticing in the sequel their late improvement, in these respects.


Agriculture. Much of the information required under this branch of inquiry, I expected to have procured from the tenants ; but it is proper to explain, that many of them having been prohibited from divulging the secret of their real rent, and quantity of land, I have been under the necessity of extracting the truth from other sources. More than half of this parish has lately been divided under a process of division of run-rig, and of this part, the number of acres of arable and pasture land, with the comparative value of each, has been exactly ascertained; and knowing the proportion between the valued rent of this part, and that which remains undivided, I am furnished with materials from which to calculate the number of acres of arable and pasture land in the whole parish, with more precision than formerly; and the knowledge of the real rent of (a part, amounting to more than £ 600, gives me also materials for calculating the real rent of the whole, which 1 believe to be nearly £1600, but which I shall at present calculate at £1500 ; and I have pleasure in acknowledging the politeness of Mr Graham, the Crown Chamberlain, and the surveyor, in procuring most of the documents. The valuation of the parish, more than twenty years ago is far below the Present value, some tenants paying more than double of the rent then stated.

       No. of imperial acres cultivated, or occasionally in tillage 2294
       No. which never have been cultivated, and which remain constantly waste, or in pasture 3224
       No. in a state of undivided common, or water 5202
       Under planted wood, about 1

What portion of this might, with a profitable application of capital, be added to the cultivated land, is a matter on which there must be a great variety of opinions; but the practicability of doing so is yearly proved, by the cultivation of some part of it.

Rent of Land. The average rent of arable land per acre is 10s , and the average rent of pasture land about '2s. per acre.

Rate of Wages. The following is the rate of wages. A ploughman per year, £ 7, or more if he acts as grieve, with board, or equivalent in meal, &c.; a male day labourer gets 1s. and a female 6d. without fare; female servants in gentlemen's families have £ 3 a-year. For harvest, men get £ l, 10s. and females £ l. Masons may be got to build dikes at 1s. 3d. a-day, and 11d. a fathom for building and quarrying a dry stone dike, 3½ feet high, with coping. More perfect masons obtain 2s. a-day for the best kind of work ; carpenters get 2s. a-day and food.

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