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.

It is a very varied collection. It contains papers about land transactions, from the 16th century onwards; correspondence between the Bruce family and other Shetland landlords and merchants; masses of legal papers; and papers about shipping and commerce – Shetland landlords were often merchants and traders.

One unusual item is a bundle of letters by the French privateer Francois Thurot, written in 1757 when he was en route to Norway, to the then laird of Symbister. Thurot writes: ‘I have occasion for some beeves, sheep, bread, meal and other trifles, which I shall be obliged to you and your people to supply me with. If you do it friendly I shall pay you the price you expect, but if you refuse you cant take it ill that I furnish my self according to the rules of warr.’