The Foula Islanders. The “Journal” Commissioner to the Rescue. (13 February, 1892)

The winter of 1891/2 was tough for the inhabitants of Foula, the most remote of the Shetland islands, who were cut off from supplies and communications by bad weather. In February 1892, ‘The People’s Journal’ sent a journalist to  provide aid and supplies gifted by readers, as well as to record the state of the island.

[Special Telegram.]

Lerwick, Wednesday.

After seven weeks’ isolation from the world, the islanders of Foula were yesterday morning visited by the smack Mersey, of Scalloway (skipper, Peter Tait), which carried as many provisions as will feed the community till the weather permits something like regular communication being held between the island and the Shetland mainland. As representative of this journal, I was on board the smack, a brother of the missionary being the only other passenger, and we two were the first persons who had been in the island since the commencement of the storms in the latter part of December.

Getting A Vessel.

My instructions admitted of little hesitation. I had to get to Foula, to land there if possible, to interview the resident clergyman, ascertain the condition of the people, and assist in giving relief. Five pounds, £8, £10 were variously demanded by the skippers. It was no use pointing out that the passage could be made in ten on twenty hours; it might, they declared, take ten or twenty days, and they had all the risk. “What is the difference between your demand and Mr Grierson’s offer?” I asked Skipper Tait, a grizzly old sheilback who looked game enough for any trouble or adventure. He told me. Then I offered the difference and something more for my passage. The bargain was struck, and the smack Mersey was timed to leave Scalloway Bay at ten that evening. This delay was due to the fact that the smack had been laid up for the winter and had to get her sail bent, her tackle overhauled, and other necessary preparations made before she could go to sea.

The Provisions

had also to be got aboard. These amounted to about four tons of flour, oatmeal, potatoes, sugar, tea, tobacco, butter, &c. The consignments from Mr Grierson and Mrs Traill were purely in the way of mercantile transactions, but I took with me for gratuitous distribution among the most needy of the islanders a large parcel of meal, flour, potatoes, tea, sugar, tobacco, &c., the gift of the proprietors of the People’s Journal. The parcel included a large package of sweeties and rock, a gift for the bairns of the island from “Dainty Davie” and “Mother Sunnyblink,” of the People’s Journal Sunbeam Club. I once thought of throwing the money spent on the tobacco into the bairns’ fund, so that they might have a regular blow-out, but I was told I did not know the Foula men. In their arduous sea calling tobacco is reckoned a necessary. They can often when benumbed with cold at sea get a moment to light their pipe and enjoy its warmth when they can spare no time to prepare or eat food. They would therefore, perhaps, prefer the tobacco to the meal. This view was later confirmed by the island missionary. I am glad now I decided for the tobacco. Continue reading “The Foula Islanders. The “Journal” Commissioner to the Rescue. (13 February, 1892)”