People, Estates, Businesses and Societies

The Archives has collections of papers produced by individual Shetlanders, from many periods. Especially impressive are records by local authors: poets such as J.J. Haldane Burgess, Peter A. Jamieson and T. A. Robertson (‘Vagaland’).

Sometimes the Shetlanders owned landed estates. Their records contain details of the land they owned, but also information about their tenants. Very often such landlords were involved in the public business of the islands. The Bruce of Sumburgh papers are especially rich.

Businesses also generate useful material for research. The Archives’ biggest collection of business records are those of Hay & Company, successful merchants in the islands for more than 100 years.

And Shetlanders have often formed societies: to make music; for recreation – the Ultima Thule Curling Club, for example! or for intellectual pursuits.

Inside People, Estates, Businesses and Societies

Mathewson Collection

The Mathewson collection includes hundreds of letters by members of a far-flung family to each other. It is a window into the lives of Shetlanders over 140 years ago.

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Reid Tait

The Archives holds papers and published works collected by E.S. Reid Tait. Tait was a draper in Lerwick, but his real love was literature about his native Shetland. Throughout his long career, and in retirement, he collected material about the islands from every possible source.

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Laurence Williamson

One of the Archives’ most remarkable collections is the papers of Laurence Williamson, a Shetlander who lived in the island of Yell. At various times a crofter, a teacher and a telegraph operative, he was also a scholar.

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J.J. Haldane Burgess

James John Haldane Burgess (1862-1927) was a prolific writer and socialist who lived most of his life in Lerwick. He was educated at the Anderson Educational Institute, where he excelled, winning first prize in a Scotland-wide bursary competition run by Glasgow University in 1881. He continued his studies at Edinburgh University.

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Shetland Literary and Scientific Society

The papers of the Shetland Literary and Scientific Society – minutes, reports, and letters -- give an excellent insight into the improving Victorian spirit that suffused Shetland, and Lerwick in particular, in the second half of the 19th century.

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Hay and Company Merchants

Hay & Company was the successor of the bankrupt firm Hay & Ogilvy. Both firms comprise part of the history of Hays’ Dock, with a much changed Hay & Company still operating next door.

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Bruce of Symbister

The Bruce family of Symbister arrived in Shetland in the second half of the 16th century. They very quickly amassed land in Whalsay and Dunrossness, and became influential in the history of the islands. The family died out in the 1940s, and the last representative, himself an antiquarian, left a fine collection of estate and other papers.

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Peter Jamieson

Peter Jamieson (1898-1976) was a writer, antiquary and socialist from Lerwick. He is best remembered today as the founder of the New Shetlander magazine in 1947. Although his role as editor came to an end less than ten years later, the magazine still comes out four times a year. The New Shetlander, as it has been since Jamieson’s first edition, is an essential platform for Shetland writers.

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