Virtual Vault Rev James Wallace's Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1684 (MS)
Chapter 2

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Chapter 2d
of Plants animals metalls &
Substances cast up by the sea etc.

This Countrey abounds with varieties both of field and garden herbs especiallie cabbage, turnipe, parsnipe, carrot, crumock artichock grow to a greater bignes heerthen I have seen them elswhere I have seen strawberries that wold be above three inch about.† Sometyms the Herbs are monstrouslie fruitfull for out of the flour of one marigold I have seen a dizon more growing: the Like I have seen in the gowan or wild daisie.† Rotecold, valerian foxglove, grow wild in severall places, and a herb like to Tussilage, but with leaves almost as lairge as the leaves of Rubarb.† Tormentill grous plentifullie in the fields, with the root of qch the coman people use to bark their hides.

Heer is good store of sheep & kyne, qch yeeld much milk of which a great deal of Butter is made as good as anie in Scotland.† But that which is sold to the merchand being their farme Butter, they are not att the pains to dight itt & cleanse itt & so itt is sold for a mean price & employed to as mean uses.

Their Ewes are so fertile that most of them hase tuo att a birth, some three: I myself saw one that hed four all Living & following the dame.† The Sheep usuallie die of a disease called the Sheep dead which is occasioned by great quantities of Litle animals Like to flooks, of ane inch Long, qch are engen=dered

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=dered in the Liver.† I putt one off them in a microscope, and found itt Like a Litle flook wanting finns.† This putt me in mind of a man whom I knew, who Lived at Rosemarknie in Ross called James Thomson, who used ordinarlie in his egestion to eject great numbers of animals Like to these flooks.

There are great herds of Swine & rich Cuningars almost in everie Ile wooll stored with Rabbits.

Their horses are but Litle ; yet strong & weell metald : most of which they get from Zetland & are called Shelties.

Froggs are seen but seldome, yet there are some toads, tho (as its thought) not poysonus as indeed there are few poysonous animals in all this Countrey.

There is a gray snaile yt hes a bright white stone growing in itt.

Manie ottars & selchs are to be hed everie where, manie spout whales or Pollacks, which sometyme run in great numbers upon the shore and are taken.

There is plentie off that tang or ware growing on the rocks off qch in other places is made Kelp for ye amkeing of Soap etc.

Heer is plentie of shelfish oysters, Lobsters, partens, musles, Crabs, Cows, Chams Chlams, the shell off which is so usefull to the Gold Smith.

In manie places they get Cocles in such aboundance yt off the shells a great deall of sine Lime is made excellent for plastering.

There is one Shelfish of a rotund figure, the skin above the shell being thick, sett with prickles they call them Ivigars In Latine Echinus marinus.† Upon the Rocks, yow will find fishes Like stars, with five points as you may see in the following page.


Illustrations (two)

Sometyme they find living tortoises on the shoare and sometyme Tangles full of shells, evrie one haveing a pearle in them & verie oft these prettie Nutts off which they use to make snuff boxes: there are 4 sorts off them, the figures off which I have here sett doun.

Illustrations (four)


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In the sea, they catch Ling, keilling Haddock, whittins, Macrell, turbot, skeat, Congereels, ?geds etc..† sometyme they catch Sturgeon.† Tuo years agoe, in winter, there wes taken a Strainge but beautifull fish in Sanda (where severalls off them had been gotten before) called be them Salmon Stour.† Itt wes about ane elne in Length, deep breassted & narrow att the taile:† the head & finns & a stroak doun the back wer all off a deep bodye color, which made itt beautifull to Look on, the rest wes mous-colored without scales, haveing severall whitish sports on the bodie.† The flesh of the half next the head wes Like Beef, & of the other half nixt the taile, wes Like Salmond.† The picture of which, as neer as I could draw itt, is heer sett doun.

Illustrations (2)

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Herring swims thoro these Iles in great plentie, but they have not the way to catch them.† Not manie years agoe manie ships from fife frequented this Countrey for the catching of Herring, but the skippers and seamen, being by the furie of the tyms engadged in the batell of Kilsyth they wer there almost Killed since which tyme yt trade failed ; tho the Hollanders faile not to keep itt up to their great advantage.† Sometyme Strange fishes are cast a shoare to which the people give as strainge names.† I my self saw one Like a Plumasio feather the bodie being like the quill & the taile Like the feather died reed qr off.† I have sett doun the figure in the former page.† As for that strainge sleeping fish, yt Boethius mentions in his description off this Countrey, I could never hear off itt.

Heer is plentie both of tame & wild foull: Peacocks, pul=fouls, hens, duccs goose & Plover, muirfoul, corncraiks etc.† dunter goose claik goose, wild duce solon goose, swans, teil ateil, whapes etc.

There are Likewise manie Toists & Lyers, both seafoul, verie fatt & delicious to eat.† Some tyme the stock owle hes been seen in this Countrey.† Heer is also the Embergoose, of which it is said yt they have their nests & hatch their eggs under ye water.

Illustration (one)

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Eagles and Gleds are rife & verie harmfull to the young store: yea the have been found to seize upon young Children & carie them a good way of.† Wee have a Law, yt iff anie kill one off those earnes or eagles, he is to have a hen out of evrie house of the parish in qch itt is killed.† The ∆lites

Hawks & falcons have there† nests in several places off these Ilands.† As, in the Noup, Swona and Rapnes in Westra.† At Highberrie & aith head in waas, at Bradbrake, furcarsdale & Rackwic in hoy: att Halcro head, Green head & hocsa in South ronaldsha: at Bellibrake & Quendall in Rousa: in the Calf of Eda: att Gatnip Gultack, Mulehead in deirnes, Copinsha, Blacke craig of Stromnes, Yesknabie, Birsa, Marwick, Costahead in ye Mainland.† The kings falconer Comes yearlie & herries their nests: who hes twentie pound sterling in Salarie & a hen or dogg out of evrie house in the Countrey: except some houses yt are priviledged.

There are severall Mines of Silver, Tinne, Lead & perhaps off other metals especiallie in the Mainland, Southronalsha, Hoy, Stronsa, Sanda etc. but neglected or not improven thoro povertie or carelesnes.

A Great deall of Marle is found especiallie in the Mainland, of which the Husbandman makes a good use.

In manie places are of excellent freeston & sklate.

Not farr from Birsa at Bucquoy & Swanna are to be found some veins of Marble & Alabaster.†††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† Some

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Sometyme are casst in by the sea, peeces of trees & some tyme hogse heads of wine & Brandie, all covered over wt ane Innumerable plentie of these creatures which they call clockgoose, tho I take them to be nothing olse but a kind off shellfish.† As you may perceive by this figure


Sometyme on the shoare they find the shott of whales, Ambergreese, water spunges & a great manie off these Camshells yt the Gold Smith makes so great use off.† Also that which they call the Croupurse which is a prettie work of nature when itt first comes ashoare, itt is of a whitish color, filled with a yellow Liquor l but after itt is dried some dayes by the Sun, itt is Like black sattin.

Sometyme they find† exotick foules driven in by the wind in tyme of a storm.† I my self saw one yt hed a Long beck, a lairge tuft on the head in the fashion of a crown, with speckled feathers pleasant to be hold.

About four year agoe, the day being exceeding stormie, there wer found before a Gentlemans door in Kirkwall, a prettie distance from the sea, seven or eight quiths ( a fish about the bignes of a litle haddock) half alive as iff they had been but newlie taken.† But whither they fell from the Clouds, or the violente wind hed heaved them up out of the


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sea & when the strength of the blast wes gone, they had fallen in yt place, wee cannot tell.

But† how violentlie the winds sometyme blows heer & how great the power of the sea brake, may appear from this yt at Cantick head, or osnua head in waes, there are by the violenes off the sea & winds, bigg stons throin up from the bottom a great way above ye rock some so bigg yt scarce 30 men will make them to budge.

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