Mathewson Lecture

Eileen Brooke-Freeman will deliver a talk next week about how she has discovered more about the life of her ancestor Andrew Dishington Mathewson of East Yell (1799-1887) through studying his letters, plans and other documents deposited in the Shetland Archives.

Mathewson was a remarkable man. He first started teaching other children to read aged only 6 years old and was in sole charge of a school in Fetlar at 14. In 1822 he became the first schoolmaster at East Yell and continued some aspects of teaching until 1878 (aged 78).

As well as teaching children, he taught navigation to young men from all over Shetland and supplemented his meagre income by working as a land surveyor and holding other posts like sessions’ clerk, postmaster and registrar.

He had a family of 12 bairns and faced plenty of personal tragedy in his lifetime, burying his wife and 9 of his children.

He helped the needy, often getting into debt through his preference to teach a youngster or help a neighbour rather than chase up his dues. He wrote letters about the need for legislative change on several issues, including the need to register stillbirths. He also wrote letters on behalf of other folk in the neighbourhood.

We know so much about Mathewson, his family, his teaching and life in Shetland because of his meticulous record keeping. He and his family were highly literate and through their detailed letter writing we learn not just about family life, but about their neighbours and events of the time at home and away. Mathewson recorded details of what should be taught in school in addition to the more usual class registers and log books. As a surveyor he produced field notebooks with calculations and sketches, and superbly drawn plans.

He had a habit of writing in a miniscule hand and often it is easier to study his writing today through photographs or scans of the original letters or by using a magnifying glass.

Eileen’s talk will go into more detail about the life and work of this notable man. The talk will be held at Shetland Museum and Archives on Thursday 30th March. Doors will open at 7.00pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets are priced £3.50 and available from reception or online at

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