George Mackay Brown2

The story called ‘Lieutenant Bligh and two midshipmen’ is among a collection of short stories published in 1995 as ‘Winter Tales’.  This story is about William Bligh’s first meeting with the Stewart family during the visit to Stromness of Cook’s Resolution, when on the home stretch of its return journey from the South Pacific in 1780. Bligh was master of the Resolution, as such he was responsible for navigation.

George Mackay Brown sets the scene by stating that George Stewart had had ‘no active part’ in the mutiny in 1789 but returned to Tahiti in the Bounty, after Bligh had been cast adrift, because he wanted to be with his ‘native wife’ and his daughter, ‘little’ Peggy. But all that -Tahiti, ‘native women’, the Bounty mutiny etc. -lies in the future. The story is about what Bligh first saw in the then 14 year old George Stewart.

It depicts George’s father Alexander Stewart as an unctuous, fawning ‘gold sweater’ – a successful merchant who owns several ships and has business interests in Newcastle and as far afield as Gothenburg and other Baltic ports. Alexander is aware of his own ‘uncouth northern accent’ when speaking English but has high hopes for his educated son George, who has already proved himself on one of his father’s ships as a competent seaman, well skilled in the art of navigation.Bligh recognises this.

The story contrasts George with one of Bligh’s junior lieutenants (Briscoe) – a scion of gentry who owes his rank to several ‘fops’ in the Admiralty. Bligh is disappointed, although he initially suspected as much, that Briscoe would prove incapable of minding his manners and not drink too much during dinner at the Stewarts’ table. Briscoe is portrayed as a roguish philanderer who, given half a chance, would even seduce and have his rakish way with the 12 year old Miss Elizabeth Stewart; whom he flatters and teases as the evening unfolds. Bligh steps in and ends the evening, which for him would have been a complete wash-out, but for being put in a position to observe young Stewart’s ‘steadiness of purpose’. The young man reminds him of the youth he once had been; he sees ‘great promise’ in the lad who unwittingly reveals to him that he is desperate to heed the call of the sea, as if -like Admiral Nelson- he harbours a deep-seated psychological compulsion to toy with Death.

The story also touches on Peter Linklater, another Orcadian who was involved in the Bounty saga; who was recruited from Stromness by one of Bligh’s officers to replace one of the Resolution’s carpenter’s mates who had died on the voyage.

George Mackay Brown

I am looking forward to getting hold of a copy of a collection of Orcadian author George Mackay Brown’s short stories published in 1996 as ‘Winter Tales’. There’s apparently a story in there that elaborates on William Bligh’s meeting in Stromness  with the Stewart family in 1780; when Bligh was returning home from the Pacific as sailing master in the Resolution, having distinguished himself during James Cook’s (fatal) last voyage. The Resolution’s officers were hosted and entertained by prominent families in Stromness. Bligh was keen to repay the Stewarts for their kindness and hospitality and gave this as one of the reasons he recruited George Stewart  -a “seaman … of good character..and creditable parents” – as one of the Bounty’s “young gentlemen”

Peggy Stewart and Edward Bell

Edward Bell was the clerk on board HMS Chatham during its’ voyage in 1791 – 92 in the Pacific as tender to  HMS Discovery, George Vancouver’s main expedition vessel. Bell kept a journal – an MS version is at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington (NZ) and is interesting for the light that it throws on Peggy Stewart’s love for George Stewart and their daughter Charlotte (also known as ‘Little Peggy’).

Some quotes from Bell’s journal entries:

“We were surprised today at seeing alongside in a double canoe, 3 women all dressed in white linen shirts,and having each a fine young child in their arms, perfectly white (…) they were women who had cohabited with some of the Bounty mutineers and these little ones were the offspring of their amours (…)  the women called themselves by the names of those with whom they had lived, with the addition of a Christian name …Peggy Stewart, Mary McIntosh and Mary Bockett…” (27 Dec 1791)

“Poor Peggy was not a beauty, nor had she in her appearance that I should suppose would ever tempt a man to turn Pirate  but she is possessed of much sensibility, an affable, agreeable disposition together with a sweetness of manners that upon a short acquaintance made up for the deficiency of personal beauty. She was immoderately fond of her little child and seldom without it…”  (24 Jan 1792)

“She frequently asked if Stewart would be hung and  at those times burst into a flood of tears (when told it was likely)(…) she informed us that the Pandora had been here and had taken 13 of the Bounty’s people and sailed from here about 8 months ago (…) she pleaded two midshipmen Stewart and Hayward Heywood’s part very strongly, and endeavoured to impress us with an idea that they were in no way concerned with the mutiny”(….)(folio 72)

“Peggy Stewart came today with a present and as usual brought her child with her, she was much distressed by Capt. Vancouver telling her that Stewart and Heywood would be hung on their arrival in England with the other mutineers… (folio 88)

At the time these entries were written, George Stewart was already dead, drowned during the Pandora wreck on 29th Aug 1791; however this news would not reach Tahiti for a considerable length of time, possibly Peggy was not directly informed until the arrival in 1795 of the London Missionary Society’s missionaries. It is said she died of a broken heart upon hearing this news.


George Stewart’s siblings

One of George’s sisters was Mary Stewart (born in the White House in Stromness ca 1780)  The 1841 Scotland census attests that at age 60 she was living in the Manse of Shapinsay; her husband being Revd. John Barry (b: 1783)  – a Presbytarian minister. There were no names in the census record of any dependant children living with them in this household at the time. But they did have  a son : Lt Robert Barry RN.

With several of her sisters  (Williamina, Jean and Isabella) Mary also inherited c. 1813 the Masseter estate in South Ronaldsay upon the death of their brother Robert (‘without issue’) She may have lived there ( or in Stromness) – even after her marriage to John Barry in 1810. Her brother-in-law Rev. George Barry (born c. 1796) was also recorded as a member of the household at the Manse, together with three ‘female servants’.

Williamina Stewart also married a clergyman – Robert Sands. They had a daughter who was named Wilhelmina – presumably for her mother; two of George’s sisters Jean and Isabella apparently remained spinsters.

According to Major Clapperton-Stewart, Wilhelmina Sands also married a man of the cloth (the Rev Turnbull of Tingwall)  Their daughter Grace Turnbull-Stewart -one of 15 children- eventually inherited Masseter when Mary Barry -Stewart’s heir Henrietta Stewart (b. 1796) George’s niece died c 1880 – she was a daughter of George’s brother Walter.

Unfortunately this female lineage is not useful in terms of my search for male Pandora wreck descendants.

George’s brother Walter’s line  may provide useful clues; although Major Clapperton-Stewart would have it that Walter Stewart died in 1782.  Yet there appears to be documentary evidence that indicates Walter Stewart had several sons who carried on into mid 19th C the male line from George’s father Alexander Stewart of Masseter.


Torquil:nursling of the northern seas

I found the following reference to George Stewart in the 3rd edition (1851) of

 Guide to the Highlands & Islands of Scotland by George Anderson & Peter Anderson, (Adam & Charles Black, Edinburgh  1851)

Section IX – The Orkney & Zetland Iss, Part 1: The Orkney Iss  §22


“Although Stromness is of such modern origin, it is singular that the first novelist, and the first poet of the age, have obtained each a hero from its natives, or, at least, from those who are so connected with it as to be considered such. As to Gow or Smith, the hero of “The Pirate,” we do not wish to save him from the same ill-gotten fame as is attached to the memory of the jarls, or sea-kings, who preceded him; but we may remark, that some interesting details regarding his history will be found in Mr. Peterkin’s “Notes on Orkney;” and the remains of his father’s garden may still be seen on the cast side of the harbour of Stromness. But on “Torquil, the nursling of the northern seas,” we must, in justice, offer a few observations. The traveller will perhaps recollect the poet’s description of him, in Canto II. of Lord Byron’s “Island:”—

And who is he? the blue-eyed northern child,
Of isles more known to man, but scarce less wild,
The fair-lian’d offspring of the Hebrides,
Where roars the Pentland with his whirling seas;
Rock’d in his cradle by the roaring wind,
The tempest-born in body and in mind;
His young eyes, opening on the ocean foam,
Had from that moment deem’d the deep his home,” &c.

“As Byron has not condescended to enlighten the reader as to his real history, we shall endeavour very briefly to do so. The hero, George Stewart, was a son of Mr. Stewart of Masseter. who resided on a property on which was one of the first houses built with lime in Stromness; hence it is still called the White House, and here his sisters lately lived highly respected.

“He went to sea about the year 1780, and was a midshipman in the Bounty with Bligh, when he went to transplant the bread-fruit tree of Otaheite to our West India Islands, and he remained on board after the mutiny, contrary to his own wish. Stewart took no part in that transaction; and he is vindicated, in a late publication on the subject, by one who had access to the best information. He was one of those who perished on the sinking of the Pandora in the following August. We have been favoured with a perusal of two interesting letters, exculpating this handsome and promising youth, which were written to his father in 1792.”

It would of course be more than useful to  know who showed the Andersons these letters AND, more importantly, to know who wrote the letters to George’s father.

The “late” publication the Andersons refer to is probably Edward Tagart’s 1832 ‘Memoir‘ of Capt. Peter Heywood or Sir John Barrow’s 1831 ‘Mutiny & Piratical seizure...’

If so, it is probable that the 2 letters to George Stewart’s father in 1792 were from George’s Bounty ‘messmate’, fellow midshipman Peter Heywood who  – after the Royal pardon he had received- wrote an open letter to Fletcher Christian’s brother ‘exculpating’ Fletcher Christian. This open letter was published in a local (Cumbrian) newspaper and contributed to the ensuing controversy between Bligh and Christian’s brother Edward about ‘WHO WAS REALLY TO BLAME’ for causing the infamous mutiny: a subject that still can stir up debate and controversy and has been the stuff of more than 200 years of history- and mythmaking. Some of it fanciful, overdramatised and inaccurate.

It is noteworthy that the Andersons apparently felt (in the early 1830s when they were compiling their book) they should touch on George Stewart’s “True History” because it was ‘just’  to make their observations.

As if they were righting some wrong they felt may have been done; as if the Stewart family’s reputation had been indelibly stained by the accusation of piracy against their son. Readers are assured that no such perceptions properly exist in Orkney, where his  well-respected sister had lived all her life and 2 letters exist, that are testimony that George had had no hand in the mutiny. That notion moreover, recently re-inforced by the well-informed author of the”late” publication.

The Stewarts’ headstone in Stromness cemetery (Doug Allen 2005)

One of the sisters the Andersons referred to is George’s sibling Isabella, who never married and lived in the Stromness ‘White House’ until her death in 1821. She was buried in the Stromness cemetery in the same plot as her parents Alexander & Margaret Stewart.


Stewart research

A Robert A. Clapperton Stewart (a major in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) was photographed in uniform in 1915. Doug Allan sent me a copy along with some details about the Stewart connection with the Massater estate on South Ronaldsay. It is not yet clear to me how (if at all) Major Clapperton Stewart ‘fits in’ with Geo Stewart’s family.  His grandfather or great grandfather may be one of George Stewart’s nephews, descending from George’s brother Walter ? Alternatively there is a distant connection through one of George’s sisters who jointly inherited the estate ca. 1814 following the death, ‘without issue’ of  George’s brother Robert Stewart.

Major R.A. Clapperton-Stewart

I have found a reference to an article about the Stewarts of Massater written in 1912 by one  R A C S (= Major R.A. Clapperton S.) and published by the Viking Society for Northern Research in volume 6 of Old-Lore miscellany of Orkney, Shetland,Caithness and Sutherland.  The article details the various generations of Stewarts who lived in Massater, including the Bounty’s George Stewart. The major’s article throws some interesting light on George’s family and mentions a naval sword that might have belonged to George Stewart and calls him matter-of-factly , ”the lieutenant RN, one of the Bounty mutineers”.  

There also apparently was (is still?) a portrait of George’s brother Robert Stewart  (who died in 1813) once belonging to A.Francis Stewart, bequeathed to him ca. 1880 by Grace Turnbull-Stewart, second cousin to George’s sister Mary Stewart of Masseter (b:1780 Stromness)

Mary Stewart,  to whom Massater was bequeathed when Robert Stewart died in 1813.  Mary Stewart married the Rev John Barrie- they lived at Massater with several of Mary’s spinster sisters until the estate was inherited upon their deaths during the 1880s by Grace Turnbull-Stewart.   The estate was divided during the 1890s and eventually sold to the Keillor family.