Kirkwall, Orkney – St Magnus Cathedral, memorials

In St Magnus Cathedral we have some lovely memorials. Lots of C17 stones which were always indoors, so were never eroded by the calm Orkney weather. There is a lovely book about them by Spencer J. Rosie, Saints and Sinners; memorials of St Magnus Cathedral, Orcadian, 2015. As it’s £30, I really couldn’t justify buying it, so I used the reference copy in Kirkwall library – website – I will say again how wonderful Orkney Libraries are.

Here are a selection of them, with some details from the book. I have given the page number in case anyone wants to do more research – or for when I get the pleasure of returning for another lovely holiday.

This is one of the oldest – the Paplay Tomb (page 13) The traditional story is that a husband, whose nagging wife had threatened to dance on his grave, built this low arched tomb to prevent her. The coat of arms is linked to Steven Paplay in 1584, but the style of the tomb is from the latter half of C14. It could be that of a Lawman, i.e. chief magistrate, and there is a Sigurd of Paplay mentioned in an agreement dated 1369. Is the name of Mrs Sigurd lost to history?

Margaret Young (page 85) was from a prominent Kirkwall family.

There is a similar design on the memorial to Elizabeth Cuthbert and James Wallace (page 79) He was the last Episcopal minister of the Cathedral to die in office, having been appointed in 1672, and one of Orkney’s first historians. Elizabeth died in 1685. She is buried in the Cathedral next to some of their children who had died young.

The memorial of Nicola Traill 1688 and David Covingtrie (page 80) also has a woman with her hair loose. A symbol of Vanitas “Emptines or worthless”, but she is looking up, and the scroll says “To thee Sweetest Jesus, bu watever path thou callest”. Nicola was the sister of George Traill, and David Covingtrie was the rent collector and chamberlain to Bishop Mackenzie. Presumably Nicola was his first wife, and a rent collector a wealthy husband.

James Baikie of Burness 1679 and Sibilla Halcro (page 69). The words “ad hoc” mean to this immortality, “ab hoc” from this life, and “per hoc” through this death – so now you know!

Thomas Baikie 1665 (page 68) became minister of the Cathedral in 1658, but the kirk presbytery did not take to him. He was described as “disorderly and unhanesome”. In October 1659 he moved to Rousay and Egilsay, where he was described as very learned and a lover of literature. He was one of the few native ministers at that time.

This Baikie is Jean who was buried in 1674 along with Captain Peter Winchester in 1677. He was a trader, often sailing the Leith Amsterdam route – there were many strong links between Scotland and the Low Countries. The family probably came from Elgin.

This is George Drummond (page 54). His family motto is Virtute tutus (protected by courage). He was the 6th Laird of Ballock, and nephew of Bishop Graham. His son John took an active part in the Marquis of Montrose’s campaigns on behalf of Charles I, eventually escaping to Norway in 1646. He (George, I assume) was Provost of Kirkwall 1648-50.

Patrick Prince 1673 and Margaret Groat’s memorial has Death piercing a two handled urn with a dart, while a cherub blows a call to life on a long trumpet. Patrick was a merchant’s son. His father was one of the merchants  elected to the Council in 1669 following Charles II’s renewal of Kirkwall’s ancient liberties and privileges. After his death Margaret carried on his business with much success.

The final one of these memorials that I photoed, and there are quite a few more, is that for John Richan 1679 and Janet Loutit (page 67). Apparently it includes Hebrews 4.9 in Greek “There remaineth therefore arrest for the people of God”. John was a litster, who cleaned and prepared wool for household use. He was an elder in the Kirk, and was commissioned to purchase a new mortcloth, which was used to cover the coffin in its carriage from the deceased’s house to the grave. The new velvet cloth cost £169 18s Scots – which sounds a lot of money!

There are many more recent tombs. Here is a small selection.

William Balfour Baikie (page 112) was in the navy during Napoleonic wars, and later became the agent of the National Bank of Scot, Kirkwall’s first bank. He had been educated at Kirkwall Grammar school and Edinburgh university. In 1854 he was naval medical officer and a naturalist in and expedition to River Niger to try and locate explorer the Heinrich Barth. They did not find Barth, but they surveyed 700 miles of river). This expedition saw the first use of quinine to ward off malaria. On a second visit he set up trading posts. “Far from trying to transplant British ways into Africa, as his successors would do Baikie went native, wearing sandals and the long cotton shirt called a tobe. He lived in a mud hut with a thatched roof and took a native mistress, with whom he had  several children.  His little settlement, lying in an area where slavery was a way of life, became a refuge for many natives fleeing from this barbaric trade” (page 114). His was a trading post which closed on Sundays – what would he make of our 7 day a week shopping habit? He translated parts of the bible and prayer book into Hausa, and died in Sierra Leone in 1864. “Queen Victoria wrote a personal letter to the Emir of Nupe, informing him of Baikie’s death and urging the Emir to put a stop to the slave trade, knowing that this was an issue close to Baikie’s heart” (page 115). There is more information about him at this website.

George William Traill’s father came from from Westness. George was educated at the East India Company College in Haileybury in Hertfordshire, which he entered in 1808. He arrived in India 1810 and by 1816 was running the mountainous province of Kumaon. This had originally been part of Nepal, but was handed to the Company to rule. George leaned to speak and write the local language, and conducted a major survey of Kumaon, “which still continues today to form the basic document for determining village boundaries” (page 106). He retired from India in 1836, and used his wealth to buy up property on the isle of Rousay. “Traill may have been well regarded in India, but in Orkney he is remembered as the tyrannical laird who undertook the only clearance in the county on the scale of those carried out in the Highlands, clearing the township of Quandale on the west side of Rousay” (page 107).

Thomas Smith Clouston was educated at Harray parish school, West End academy in Aberdeen, and went to Edinburgh University at the age of 15. He graduated MD in 1861 “receiving a gold medal for his thesis on the nervous system of the lobster” (page 131). He assisted at the Edinburgh Royal Asylum for 4 years. At just 23 he  was appointed medical superintendent of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Asylum in Carlisle, and later returned to Edinburgh.

The most photographed memorial in the Cathedral must be this one, to those who died in the Royal Oak. 833 men drowned in Scapa Flow in October 1939, after being torpedoed by a German U-boat. The ship’s bell was recovered from the wreck. The ship is now a War Grave, and there is far more information on this website and on this one.



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