Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tale from a Shetland cemetery

It may seem odd to have a favourite graveyard – I’m not entirely sure. Genealogists certainly spend an above average amount of time in such places (second only to gravediggers and groundskeepers). Some graveyards are grand, with marbled angels standing mute and magnificent over the graves of past illustrious personages. Others are small and tucked away, grey headstones recording the patient lives of ordinary people - a name and two dates providing a starting point for research.

One short dash between the dates on a gravestone may be the only indicator of a whole lifetime. Sometimes, however, the gravestones yield more insights into the deceased’s life – or death. One small graveyard in a corner of the Shetland mainland has it all – the scenery, the stones and the story.

Eshaness cemetery © Nicholas Davidson

Eshaness cemetery is tiny – perhaps fifteen hundred square metres, walled off from the surrounding fields. It’s set on a long green slope leading up to the lighthouse and the famous Eshaness cliffs. The land is salted with sheep and lambs, the occasional wild bird startles the scene. It’s difficult to imagine a more peaceful place. Yet in this spot 166 years ago a gravestone was laid by a bereaved friend seething with grief and rage, now immortalised in stone and memory.

Donald Robertson, born 14th January 1785, died 4th June 1848, aged 63 years.
He was a peaceable, quiet man and to all appearance a sincere Christian.
His death was much regretted, which was caused by the stupidity of Laurence Tulloch in Clothister (Sullom) who sold him nitre instead of Epsom salts by which he was killed in the space of 5 hours after taking a dose of it.

Much regretted © Nicholas Davidson

37-year-old Laurence Tulloch was brought to trial in Lerwick on August 19th 1848 where he was charged with ‘culpable homicide and the reckless and negligent sale of Saltpetre instead of Epsom Salts’. The case was heard by sheriff Charles Neaves and a jury of fifteen men, who pronounced Tulloch guilty yet asked for leniency due to his good character. Nonetheless, the knowledge of what he had done and the ostracism by the community led Tulloch and his family to leave the isles not long after, never to return.

Remote © Ceris Aston
If you’re as fascinated by the story as we were, check out the local HEARD website for more on both the deceased and the man responsible for his death.

In the meantime, why not tell us about your own favourite graveyards?

Happy #throwbackthursday!

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