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Melsetter House
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Melsetter House

Date unknown. Wolfgang writes: '... cut off of an historic pic out of a series which I have bought in the early 1980ies in a second hand bookshop in Stromness (left hand side on the lane leading to the community hall ???).
There is a pencil note on the back: Melsetter House 19"X"7 ... '
Picture added on 31 January 2006
Is this photo of the original Melsetter House, or the new one. My husbands grandfather was born in the old house (we think) as his father was a shepherd there. Are there any other photos or information about Melsetter. Donald Ross (my husbands Great grandfather) took his family to the Orkney's in around 1860. They appeared on the 1861 as living there and Donald and william Ross (his youngest children) were born there in 1862 and 1864 respectively. I am keen to get information that may be available about that era.
Added by Patricia Ross, New Zealand on 28 March 2009
Patricia this is Melsetter more or less as it is today. Most of what you see here is the work done by Thomas Middlemore in the late 1800s early 1900s. If your family on the Ross side was a shepherd then it is more likely they lived in the farm or the shepherd's cottage not in this photo but to the right just out of shot.
There are a few photos of the farm house on this site, just keep looking!
Added by John Budge on 31 March 2009
To John Budge
Many thanks for that information. I will look harder.
Patricia Ross
Added by Patricia Ross, New Zealand on 03 April 2009
Sam Ross had the farm of Watering House next door to us and I think they had some conections with Melsetter- maybe the Ross's were factors to the Melsetter estate.

They had connections to the Corrigalls. Maybe his wife was a Corrigall, as the house that Sam Ross built in Longhope is owned by Corrigalls. Sam Ross would have died in the early 50s.
The house is called Roselyn, and would have been built in the 1930s.

I dont expect any of this is of any use to you as I think I am just waffeling!!.

Added by John Budge on 04 April 2009
Patricia, see picture #16844 of the farm house.
Added by John Budge on 04 April 2009
Our Donald Ross was a lowly shepherd employed by the farm. He was born in Rosskeen as was his father Alexander. Alex was a cattle drover. Donald worked with his father-in-law at the Rumsdale Estate in Sutherland/Caithness from around 1854 to 1860 when he went to Melsetter. The Ross family you mentioned don't belong.- I think - as we can't find out a lot about Donald's siblings.
Thanks Patricia Ross
Added by Patricia Ross, New Zealand on 06 April 2009
There was a Hugh Ross who came to Walls as factor to Christian Crawford at Melsetter. Christian was the widow of James Moodie of Melsetter (died early 18th century I think). Anyway, Hugh (or Hugo?) Ross apparently had to get out of Scotland due to sheep stealing so came to Walls. I rememember telling this story to my granny over 30 years ago, probably hoping there there was a link between this colourful character and our family of Rosses. She was quite clear that there was no link: 'That wis the Rosses o' Fea [pronounced Fae]' was her reply. As someone married to a Ross and descended from a Ross, she could probably be trusted and my researches have not found a link so far.

There are a lot of Rosses in Walls in the 1861 and 1871 censuses particularly (around 50 from memory) - your Donald Ross, my lot (around 30) in North Walls, and others (unconnected as far as I can make out and according to my granny) at the Wateringhouse.

The only tenuous connections between us thatI can find are:
1) my great great uncle, Sam Ross, was shepherd at Melsetter (listed in 1891 census) and lived in the house to which John Budge refers
2) my granny had a friend (before my time) called Jessiebell, that same first name as one of Donald Ross's children -might just be coincidence.

Enough of my ramblings! But where did Donald go after 1861 as he is no longer listed in the 1871 census?

Added by Jane Harris (née Ross) on 05 May 2009
Thanks for that. Our Donald married Mary McLeod in 1851 and after working at Rumsdale for a while, moved to the mainland of Orkney in between 1865 and 1871 and was there at the 1871 census(Rossmire, Firth). His third daughter Jessie Isabell(a twin-the other girl died) moved back to Scotland and was there in 1871. Another daughter Christina stayed with her McLeod Grandparents at Rumsdale and later at Rangag. She married and stayed in Britain. The 2 youngest boys Donald and William (both born at Melsetter) did not live on Scottish mainland. Donald then moved to the Shetlands for a while and finally in 1873 emigrated with most of his family to New Zealand. He died 4 months after arrivingin New Zealand. His sons were employed by Mary's uncle Alexander Sutherland who came to NZ in 1839. Our Donald was the son of Alexander Ross and Jannet MacKay from Rosskeen, Rosshire.
Added by Patricia Ross, New Zealand on 05 May 2009
When a Ross man was the tenant of the Watringhouse the factor of Melsetter took land from Burnhouse and gave it to the Ross man (I think Strings were pulled).

At that time the tennant in the Burnhouse was a man called Henry Swanson and poor Henry had to break out hill ground to replace the good land taken from him by the estate and it was said his cattle did not thrive on the poorer land. (Still the same to this day!)

This was not an unusual thing to happen before the Crofting reform act.

This same Henry Swanson lost his son in the June storm 1800s or 90s on a herring boat called The Maggie. The Maggie was wrecked on a skerry in the Westray firth, when they tried to run for shelter. A memorial to the lost men can be seen in the Ousna Kirkyard and depicts a broken mast.
Henrys son was the only single man onboard.
This tragic event left many fatherless chidren and women alone to bring up their family.

Sorry for this rambling tale it is how one story leads to another and I like to remember the yarns I heard as a bairn.

John Budge Burnhouse
Added by John Budge on 07 May 2009
Thanks for that John. Hearing what went on at the time gives a look at what the families went through. The Ross person named had nothing to do with our Ross family. (That is unless our Donald had other brothers that we don't know about. We wondered why he went to the Orkneys in the first place.)
Best wishes
Patricia Ross 12 May 2009
Added by Patricia Ross, New Zealand on 12 May 2009
I've just been reading about the death of John George Heddle of Melsetter in a shooting accident in September 1869, and one of his shepherds was the first on the scene - perhaps your ancestor, Patricia. Heddle and one of his sons were making their way home from shooting rabbits on the links, the father leading and the son following five or six yards behind with his gun half-cocked under his arm and pointing at the ground. Suddenly their dog leapt on the son's back, probably to get at a dead rabbit hanging from the bag he was carrying, and hit the stock of the gun on the way down. This both made the barrel rise and caused the son's finger to touch the trigger. The laird was shot through the spine and died within minutes. After his funeral service, at Melsetter House, the mourners went to the burial ground by sea. In the first boat was Mr Banks the factor, in the second the coffin, draped in a Union Jack, and in the third the immediate family. After that there were eighteen other boats and all were towed by the Orcadia across Longhope, winding their way among the shipping at anchor, all of which had their flags at half mast.
Added by Paul Sutherland on 01 September 2009
That is really interesting Paul. It could have been Donald but I don't know. Would be interested in anything you find.

Added by Patricia Ross on 04 September 2009
There is an interesting article about the Heddle's and Melsetter with some photographs of Heddle family members.

Click here
Added by William Sinclair on 05 December 2009
I was very interested to read about John Heddle of Melsetter as he is listed in the valuation rolls of 1860 as the proprietor of the Stoop, Longhope when my ancestors, the Manson family were tenants. One of my aims is to try and establish what date the Stoop was built and to find out if any records still exist. My search continues, but it was good to make the connection.
Added by Mary McGilvray on 03 January 2010
John Budge,
Your 'waffle' of April 2009 may not have been useful to patricia but it was to me. Margaret A. Corrigall 1874 - 1960 married a Samuel N. Ross and she was a daughter of William and Barbara Corrigall nee Sinclair. William carried on farming at Stonequay after the death of his father Donald in 1868. Donald was brother-in-law to my gx4-grandmother Barbara Moodie who seems to have been a daughter of Abraham Moodie and Crawford Johnstone. So maybe this was the string that pulled land from poor Henry Swanson on Burnhouse?! I had Sam Ross dying in 1948 at Rosslyn, a place I couldn't find,but now I suspect he died in his house'Roselyn', So thanks for all that local colour. Also to Paul re John Heddle's funeral etc.
Added by Sally, New zealand on 16 January 2011
Hi all
This has turned out to be a most interesting commentary of the late 1800s. It helps add colour to the facts we all have.
Best wishes to you all
Added by Patricia Ross New Zealand on 20 January 2011
Hello Patricia, I came across this site by mistake as i have an old post card album from around 1904 plus with lots of information. The cards are addressed to Miss L Ross & Sam Ross at Watering House Southside Longhope Orkney, also Miss JSR Corrigall Stonequay Melsetter. From reading the cards some detail of farming are present (with a pic of a lady on a horse). Also postcards to Mr Corrigall who may have been a Headmaster who did a fair bit of travelling. Hope this may be of interest to you. Val
Added by Val on 22 April 2012
That is interesting Val. Thanks for your comments. You have a valuable collection there. Unfortunately they aren't the same Ross family. Thanks anyway
Added by Patricia Ross on 23 April 2012
Hello again Patrica, sorry it was the wrong family, hopefully someone might see this and maybe it could be reunited to the right family who lived in Scotland.Best wishes Val
Added by Val on 23 April 2012
That's fine Val. Thanks for the contact
Added by Patricia Ross on 24 April 2012
Hi, Val,
Jessie S.R. Corrigall seems to have been the youngest daughter of William Corrigall, born c.1840 who married Barbara Sinclair and continued farming at Stonequay after his father, Donald's, death.
Jessie S. R. Corrigall died 3 April 1965 aged 83 at Aberdeen. She was the sister-in-law of Samuel N. Ross who seems to have died 28 Aug 1948,in the house'Rosslyn'mentioned by John Budge. She was the sister of Thomas who died young in London 1909 employed by HMSO accounts branch, but is buried in Osmundwall. Don't know what occupation her brothers William and Donald followed.
Jessie's grandfather was older brother to my g-g- grandfather Abraham Corrigall of Longhope, whose mother was Barbara Moodie sister of Helen Nicolson.
I suspect others may have closer claim to your photo album treasure,like Jane Harris,(even Kirkwall library) but if not I would certainly be interested. Thanks for posting your find anyway.
Added by Sally chao on 26 April 2012
Hello Sally,Im delighted with the update and to hear you are related.

I will now try and give as much information as i can find. I have had a look again at the cards and notice Jessie has some cards Oct 4 06 signed D C i expect that would be Donald - he also sent cards from London Exhibition 1909.

I have also found cards from London dated June 2nd 1905 from Tom, also a card from Bill asking Jessie to forward post to c/o Standard Oil company in Santa Barbara - this is dated April 8th 1908.

Photos show 5 females of the family sent to Sam Ross from Jessie, Another lady,plus another on a horse and one card with 3 children.

I hope again this helps. I am happy to let others read the post.I am not looking to sell the cards i just want to return the cards to Family members I'm happy to post without the album. Best Wishes Val
Added by Val on 30 April 2012

As far as I know, Samuel Ross's folk were not related to my line so I can't claim what sounds like a very interesting album. I think that the Orkney Library & Archives could very well be interested; it would be worth an email.
Added by Jane Harris on 01 May 2012
Hello Sally Thanks for your reply and information. Some of the p/c do have detail of Bill and Donald as they both sent cards to Jessie, some from Canada oil company, some from London Exhibition,also some family photos, I would love the p/c to be returned to family members so i am happy to forward them on free without the album,I am happy to let other members contact to.Best Wishes Val
Added by Val on 02 May 2012
Sally I can remember I think it was two sisters living at "Rosslyn" and also a gentleman who may have been a brother and from memory may have had a Scots accent. Just cant recall now, and yes I think after one passed away the remaining sister moved away.

Sadly as time passes there are fewer who would have known to spear ("Ask").
Added by John Budge on 02 May 2012
Hi again to you all
Donald Ross and William Ross have been mentioned in the correspondence and there appear to have been two sets of people with this name. Our brothers Donald and William were both born at the Melsetter Farm House in 1862 and 1864 respectively, the sons of Donald Ross from Rosskeen and Mary McLeod from Caithness. Donald Senior was a shepherd around the Highlands and in Hoy and the mainland of the Orkneys before emigrating to NZ
Best wishes to you all.
Patricia Ross
Added by Patricia Ross on 03 May 2012
I am descended from a Moodie and would be very interested to see a picture of the old Melsetter House if there is one. Also wondered if the carved stone mentioned in the Moodie Book is still there "...the letters 'WM, BS', superimposed, cut in raised letters on a stone which originally stood over the arched gateway of Snelsetter Castle...it was afterwards removed from the ruins of Snelsetter and built into one of the farm buildings near Melsetter House, where it may still be seen". This book was written in 1906.
Many thanks
Added by Mary on 30 May 2012
Sorry Mary, I can't help you on this one. Hope someone else can

Added by Patricia Ross on 31 May 2012
Been in touch with the owners to have a guided tour and the lady I spoke to says the stone is still there.
Added by Mary on 04 June 2012
Wow!! How lucky. hope you are able to go and see it. would be interested to see a photo of the stone
Anonymous comment added on 05 June 2012
I visited Melsetter House and have found a picture of the house as it used to be before it was altered in 1898. I photographed the carved stone and the arched gateway which still remain from the old Snelsetter Castle. Also found the gateposts which remain near the sea, one of which has been restored. There are medieval remains of a structure on a sea stack to the south of Snelsetter Farm which may have been an earlier Moodie stronghold. There are ancient gravestones in the Moodie cemetary near the Moodie mausoleum, where Moodies were mummified by being laid out on ledges. They were later buried by a laird's sister while he was away, much to his annoyance! There is an informative information board inside the mausoleum which has been restored. It's all very fascinating.
Added by Mary Pearson on 23 September 2012
Would just love to see the photos. If you are able to share them I will send my email address.
Many thanks
Added by Patricia Ross on 25 September 2012
I shall send them, just let me know which you would like to see?

Added by Mary Pearson on 26 September 2012
Hi Mary would love to see them all if that's okay.Many thanks Patricia
rmail is teddy@wise.net.nz
Added by Patricia Ross on 01 October 2012
I was wondering whether anyone on this site knows of the history of a Captain Benjamin Moodie. Apparently he was from Melsetter and left for South Africa in around 1817 with a ship of 200 Scottish artisans. I have been told he was my great, great, great, great grandfather.
Added by Barry Steyn on 18 October 2012
Hi Barry
I don't know much about the Moodies except that they have a Mausoleum. Mary may be able to help you. Good luck with your searches.
Added by Patricia Ross on 22 October 2012
Dear Barry
Yes there is lots of information about the Moodies and I am also a descendant. The Moodies are an ancient family - look at The Moodie Book at the website: archive.org/stream/moodiebookbeinga00ruvi#page/n7/mode/2up - please add the usual bit at the beginning of the link to make it work;
this gives a lot of information. At present I am trying to trace where Snelsetter Castle used to stand, and what it may have looked like.
Added by Mary on 22 October 2012
Good luck to you both
Added by Patricia Ross on 24 October 2012
Now Barry I might be able to shed a bit of light on the where abouts of the Castle site.
Over the last forty odd years I have done cultivation work around Snelsetter and when ploughing in the field below the farm towards the shore line a very shallow and blackened area of land lies and people say that is where the Castle stood all the stone was used in the building of the new steading and house that is still seen at Snelsetter today.
Some stone work can be seen on a sea stack just off the land below Snelsetter and known localy as the Castle but we are told this was a sanctuary where young men would hide from the Press Men seeking crew for the British Navy in days of yore.
A rope bridge was rigged beetween the land and the stack and so gave them some protection, another place just to the west of Snelsetter used for the same purpose was the caves on Garth Head known as the "Haas-O-Gerth"and the only way down was by a narrow crack in the cliff and could be easly defended should the "Pressers" try to gain entry to the lads hiding therein.
Added by John Budge on 27 October 2012
Thats really interesting John. Hope more items come to light
Patricia Ross
Added by Patricia Ross on 01 November 2012
Dear John
How interesting! I shall send you an email about this. Thanks so much,
Added by Mary on 01 November 2012
Thanks to all for your comments, very much appreciated. I will do a little reading in The Moodie Book for more information and see what I can find.
Best regards, Barry
Added by Barry Steyn on 02 November 2012
I mentioned the stone work on the sea stack at Snelsetter and how it was used as a sanctuary for boys avoiding the "Pressers".

Only yesterday I got a copy of an amazing new book on Hoy and Walls by John Findlay and in it the stack with stonework is mentioned as having been built by monks in medieval times and can be found on other sea stacks around Hoy.

John Findlay's book is a must for anyone with an interest in Hoy and Walls, high quality photographs on very good paper, you will enjoy it.
Added by John Budge on 03 November 2012
Firstly I am sorry for replying to the wrong person Mary, I have seen the google map of Snelsetter and yes it looks as though the marks in the field to the east side of the farm are something in the ground but that is not the area I was thinking of and the marks are very simetrical to the paddock therin .
Please do not take my word for the where abouts of the Castle I only know of the area below the steading was very shallow and black.
In the days when we built stacks of oats in the fields that round marks would grow marked colours in the grass for years after so although a photo taken from the air is very good it may be misleading aswell.
Mary see the stone piller at "Owsna" has been rebuilt marking the gateway to Snelsetter".
Added by John Budge on 06 November 2012
Dear John
I shall definitely try to get a copy of the book by John Findlay, thanks. And thanks too for your commments about the whereabouts of Snelsetter Castle. For a while I was getting excited that it may have been like Noltland or Muness castles which stand near modern farmhouses. However I believe now that it may rather have been like Langskaill Castle on Gairsay,or Smiddybanks Castle, South Ronaldsay, which were fortified manor houses that evolved over the years from possible Norse origins. It's a fascinating subject. Yes I did see the restored gatepost (that's my photo of it on this website)and I believe that Snelsetter Castle controlled the ferry between Walls and Caithness.
Added by Mary on 12 November 2012
Hi all
John's info is so good especially as he worked there. Am interested in anything about the area
Patricia R
Added by Patricia Ross on 12 November 2012
I would like to have the details of the book you recommended as I cannot find it online, thanks. How interesting that the author mentions the monks who may have fortified the Candle of Snelsetter. I read an article by Dr Raymond Lamb who believes that the Candle was not actually a Christian site but rather a refuge for raiders and robbers, similar to Mestag in Stroma, see the webpage: ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-352-1/dissemination/pdf/vol_107/107_144_154.pdf (add the usual bit at the front without the www), page 146.
Added by Mary Pearson on 13 November 2012
Try the Orcadian online bookshop.
Added by W Watters on 14 November 2012
Mary the book is called A Photographic Portrait of Hoy & Walls by John Findlay .
Printed by The Orcadian and Published by Galaha Press priced £35.00 its a book that will be a collectors piece in years to come.
Added by John Budge on 15 November 2012
Paul Sutherland's tale of the death of John George Heddle and his funeral and of his being transported by sea to his last resting place brings to mind another tale of the use of their own boats by the family.

A small estate in the Heckness area o Waas came for sale, and the sale by public roup was held in Wick .Caithness. Now there was at the time a retired sea captain, Cpt Corrigall, who was interested in the parcel of land, so he travelled to Caithness by ferry boat. The Heddles had their own private means of transport and set sail for Wick.
Crossing the Pentland Firth the wind dropped and the west going ebb tide carried them away so missing the roup in Wick!!.
An old saying used here by the older generation comes tae mind "Hid Wiz weel Amass" (Some times people get what they deserve).
Added by John Budge on 18 November 2012
Hi all,
I am a norwegian man that have a man, Robert Moddie as my forefather (8th great grandfather). He came from Scotland to Bergen about 1620-30 and was a wealthy man, owning property in Bergen and also fishing industries in the Northern Norway (where I origins from). Now I am trying to find out if he was the Robert Moodie, son of Adam Moodie of Breckness (1555-1603), husband of Christian Steward. It is difficult as documents in Bergen were lost in big fires.
Anyway... I am planning to visit Orkney and Edinburg in July this year and would be very grateful of any information about the family, pictures and suggestions for where to search for information, what to see and so on.

PS! I have read "The Moodie Book", and it seems like Robert disappears from the story after 1612?

Kind regards
Added by Jan R Nymoen on 25 March 2013
A photograph of Melsetter House before alteration is reproduced in my biography of the architect William Lethaby. It is the only one I could find

Godfrey Rubens
Added by Godfrey Rubens on 21 December 2013
Many thanks for that information
Added by Patricia Ross on 03 January 2014
Re Sally's 2012 comment about her ancestor Donald Corrigal's mother Barbara Moodie being the sister of Helen Nicolson and the daughter of Abraham Moodie/Crawford Johnston - where did Sally get this from? I am also a descendant of Donald Corrigal. I had thought his mother Barbara Moodie was the daughter of the laird of Melsetter, Benjamin Moodie, but now I am not so certain.
Incidentally, Donald Corrigal lived at Stonequoy not Stonequay. Quoy is an old Norse word meaning cattle pen.
Regards, John Hunter
Added by John Hunter on 01 October 2014
Hi All, This has been such an interesting conversation. I know that it is 2 years later but I am hoping someone sees this. My husband is a direct descendant of Benjamin Moodie, who went to South Africa in 1817. We are visiting Hoy and Melsetter in September and were wondering if John Budge is still there. We found his comments and first hand knowledge very interesting and would love to make contact with him. Thank you.
Added by Don and Sandy Moodie on 25 June 2016
Hello, John Hunter,
Sorry for the 2 year delay. I,too, was confused by the two Barbara MOODIES, but entries copied from Walls parish entries state our Barbara who married James Corrigall was sister of Helen who married Nicolson. See NAS papers:GD263/161 Letter from Major James Moodie 20Jan1816 (x5pp);
and GD263/164 Letter from JG Moodie Heddle of Melsetter 5Feb1896 (x20pp inc.transcripts). My feeling is half-sister perhaps from Abram MOODIE and Lilias ALLANE or other, but have not yet found a conclusive birth record. Any clues welcomed.

Added by Sally Chao on 05 August 2016
Hi Sally
Thanks for clearing up the doubt over Barbara's father. I have a South Walls parish death entry for an Abram Moodie 16th Feb 1823 aged 79, giving his birth c1743/4 - this would rule out Abram Moodie/Lilias Allane who married 1729, although they could be Barbara's grandparents!I am unable to find a birth record for Barbara or a marriage record for Abram Moodie/Crawford Johnston so I think that part of the parish records must be missing.
Regards, John
Added by John Hunter on 28 August 2016
I also am a decendent of Robert Moodie and Johanna Esausdatter. I love reading this information, and I have completly went thru the Moodie book, my family came from Norway
Added by Mark S Jacobson on 24 March 2021
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