For many years I have researched my family name of SUTHERLAND in Gravesend, Kent, where I wrongly assumed they had been in existence since time began. The name surprisingly appears first in Gravesend about 1790 when two young fishermen arrived in the Thames from the Orkney Isles. Their names were :-
WILLIAM SUTHERLAND – born about 1771
ROBERT SUTHERLAND – born about 1779
On one of my visits to Orkney I found in the Orkney Room of the Kirkwall Library a book on Omond’s Diary referring to a business journey from Orkney in 1789. In this was a reference to a journey to Liverpool on Tuesday 9 June 1789. He left Kirkwall and spent two nights waiting to get a passage in a smack from the village of St Margaret’s Hope in Scapa Flow. The entry explains that this was probably one of the lobster smacks that came north from Gravesend twice monthly during the summers to buy up the local catch of lobsters for the London market. Could this be how the two men worked as fishermen and arrived in the Thames?
I have since found that there were two fishing companies operating the service with ‘welled fishing smacks” to and from the Isles. The two companies concerned were :-
THE NORTHUMBERLAND FISHING SOCIETY
A.SELBY and COMPANY, LONDON
but I have been unable to find any information on these two companies even at PRO, Kew, or Companies House. It would be most helpful if anyone has any information.
The two young men were in their mid-teens when they arrived in Gravesend and later they were listed in the 1851 Census as being born in Orkney and their trade shown as fishermen. The name SUTHERLAND is mainly found in the islands of Walls and Flotta with a few in South Ronaldsay.
WILLIAM’s first recorded date of existence in the Gravesend area is his marriage to a MARY HARRISON at Swanscombe on 9th October 1793. WILLIAM JOHN their son was baptised at St George’s Church, Gravesend, on 25 th January 1801.
ROBERT’s first recorded date is his marriage to a SUSANNA HARRISON at St George’s Church, Gravesend on 4th June 1799. MARY and SUSANNA were sisters baptised in Swanscombe.
There then appeared about the same time a young girl from Scotland named FRANCIS SUTHERLAND and in a later Census she is stated as an Aunt to one of ROBERT’S children – could this be a sister of ROBERT or of WILLIAM? Interestingly she does not say that her birthplace is Orkney as the two men did – but Scotland. During one of my visits to Orkney I was told that “No true Orcadian would say they were born in Scotland if they had been born in the Orkneys. Therefore could she have been born on the mainland?
The name of FRANCIS was rarely used in the islands in this period. She never married and died in Gravesend in 1860. Interestingly she is buried in the same grave with WILLIAM and ROBERT in the Gravesend Cemetery. The gravestone unfortunately only records their names but no relationship.
To date I have been unable to establish if these are brothers / sister or cousins because it would appear that WILLIAM was baptised in Flotta and ROBERT in Walls – FRANCIS unknown. I do have a problem with WILLIAM’s parentage as on the certificate for his second marriage in 1838 his father is shown as JOHN – but I can find no record that shows a JOHN having a son baptised in 1771 – but there is a JAMES SUTHERLAND and ANN PEEBLES having a WILLIAM baptised on 12th March 1771 in Flotta and I feel fairly certain that this is my WILLIAM.
I have also been unable to trace a marriage for JAMES SUTHERLAND and ANN PEEBLES, which may give me some clues as to the real identity of JAMES. The name of PEEBLES does appear in the islands, so I am hoping that one day this information will become available.
On one of my visits to the Archives Office in Kirkwall Alison found me an Abstract of the Survey of the Island of Flottay surveyed by David Aitkin 1766. This includes 3 JAMES SUTHERLAND and 1 JOHN SUTHERLAND listed and interestingly JOHN had been crossed out and JAMES inserted and one JAMES crossed out and JOHN inserted – infuriating isn’t it – but that is family history.
I have also listed all the SUTHERLAND’s shown on Flotta and I had indeed made a “Casagram” showing the families living in the various crofts over the years. This I will write about on another occasion.
The family name of SUTHERLAND has been a well established Thames waterside name in Gravesend from then until now and the men of the families have always been associated with the sea – fishermen, watermen, tugmen, Trinity House pilots [one being an uncle of mine who was a past President of the Cape Horners Association] .
The research has led me to many interesting aspects of the river and the Orkney Isles and their history. The reason for writing this article is to try and tie some of the loose ends together and hope that somewhere out there someone might know something about the two fishing companies mentioned or any knowledge of the sea trades between Orkney and the Thames in the period mentioned or just have an interest in the family.
I have been very grateful to various SUTHERLAND’s presently living in Orkney for sight of their family records but I would be more than willing to exchange ideas and information with anyone interested in the SUTHERLAND family.
Submitted by Stanley Sutherland
Contact the author via Flotta Web Guide
Previously published in Sib Folk News, Oct 1998.