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Rousay and Egilshay

"Rousay, an island of Orkney, 7 furlongs N by E of the nearest point of Evie parish in Pomona, 4¼ miles SSW of Westray, and 11 N by W of Kirkwall, under which it has a post office, with money order and savings' bank departments. Its utmost length, from E to W, is 5½ miles; its utmost breadth, from N to S, is 4½ miles; and, but for Saviskaill Bay (2½ miles x 1 mile) on the N side, its outline would be nearly circular. The north-western coast is rocky and precipitous, rising rapidly to a height of 399 feet above sea-level; but elsewhere the shore is lower and more sloping, with several safe though small harbours. ...

Of six fresh-water lakes much the largest is the Muckle Water (1½ x ¼ mile; 322 feet), which sends off Suso Burn east-north-eastward to Rousay Sound; but Loch Saviskaill or Wasbister yields far better trout-fishing. On every side the surface rises in hilly acclivity, and forms an upland mass in the general shape of a flattened cone, which, measuring several miles around the shoulder, presents an imposing aspect. The ascent for the most part is steep, and is marked at intervals with abrupt ridges and terraces, apparently former sea-margins. A strip of fertile arable land fringes much of the seaboard, between the beach and the base of the uplands. The latter are suitable for black-faced sheep, for Highland cattle, and for game, Rousay being the best grouse island in Orkney. The rocks belong to the Old Red Sandstone formation. A group of five sepulchral mounds, known as Manzie's or Magnus', on Corquoy farm, were carefully trenched in 1880, and yielded a curious oval urn, of a somewhat metallic appearance. Trumland House, near the southern shore, was erected in 1872 from designs by the late David Bryce, R.S.A., and is the seat of Lieut. -Gen. Frederick William Traill Burroughs, C.B. (b. 1831), who holds 6693 acres in Orkney, valued at £2116 per annum. The parish of Rousay and Eagleshay comprises also the inhabited islands of Eagleshay or Egilshay and Weir or Viera, both of which are noticed separately; and has a land area of 13, 754 acres. It is in the presbytery of North Isles and the synod of Orkney; the living is worth £.207. Rousay and Eagleshay have each an Established church, and there are also Free and U.P. churches of Rousay; whilst an Episcopalian cemetery, near Rousay parish church, was consecrated in 1881. Five public schools, Eagleshay, Frotoft, Sourin, Viera, and Wasbister, with respective accommodation for 50, 60, 90, 25, and 65 children, had (1884) an average attendance of 18, 30, 41, 17, and 38, and grants of £29, 8s., £45, 13s., £35, 10s. 6d., £18, 14s. 4d., and £47, 2s. Valuation of parish (1884) £3879, 9s. 4d. Pop. of Rousay island (1811) 795, (1831) 921, (1851) 937, (1871) 860, (1881) 873; of parish (1801) 1061, (1841) 1294, (1871) 1101, (1881) 1118."

From Francis Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, 1882-4


The Little General and the Rousay Crofters: by William PL Thomson. Published 1981, 2000. In print.
Brilliant account of 19th century events in Rousay.

In Dreams We Moor: by Robert C. Marwick. Published by Brinnoven in 2000. 83pp. Illustrated.
The author takes an affectionate look at his native island, touching on its history, the way of life in the island and the changes that have taken place in the 20th century.

The Place-Names of Rousay: by Hugh Marwick. Published 1947.


Inscriptions from the cemeteries in Rousay have been extracted by Robert C. Marwick, who has generously allowed them to be posted on this website. There are seven Kirkyards in Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre, as follows:


Complete texts of the seven censuses of Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre from 1841 to 1901 appear on the Rousay Roots website. Transcribed by Robert C. Marwick, author of "Rousay Roots", these censuses are cross referenced to the entries in his book. He has also added maiden names where known.


You can also perform a more selective search for churches in the Rousay and Egilshay area that are recorded in the GENUKI church database. This will also help identify other churches in nearby townships and/or parishes. You also have the option to see the location of the churches marked on a map.

Church Records

  • Baptisms, 1733-1854. No entries Sep 1746-May 1798 (except one in 1789).
  • Marriages, 1733-1854. No entries Dec 1745-June 1798.
  • Burials. No entries.

The huge gap in the Registers between 1746 and 1798 is most unfortunate in that it is very difficult to bridge the gap and connect the families listed in the earlier entries with those in the latter. A few entries from that time period were made long after the fact and are included in the Registers but there aren't very many of these.

Other church records (held at Orkney Archives in Kirkwall).

  • Ref: OCR/FC/21: Trumland Kirk, Rousay: Baptisms 1876-1932, Communion Roll 1876-1903 and 1906-1918, Adherents' Roll 1881-1903.
  • Ref: OCR/FC/22: Sourin Free Kirk, Rousay: Communion Roll 1889-1906.
  • Ref: OCR/FC/34: Egilsay United Free (Mission Station): Baptisms 1922-1989, Communion Roll 1922-1988.
  • Ref: OCR/KC/19: Rousay and Egilsay Kirk: Baptisms 1885-1929, Proclamations of marriage banns 1901-1925, Communion Roll 1886-1930 and 1933-1946.

Civil Registration

The Registrar of births, deaths, and marriages for the islands of Rousay, Egilsay, and Wyre.
The Registrar's records extend back only as far as 1st January 1855 when registration became compulsory in Scotland.

Description and Travel

You can see pictures of Rousay and Egilshay which are provided by:


It is important to know the name of the farm or croft in which families resided in order to keep them all straight. For Rousay this job is made much easier due to Hugh Marwick's book The Place-Names of Rousay, described below under Names, Geographical.



  • The Rousay Roots website provides a wealth of genealogical information on Rousay families, including family histories of most of the old families in the islands of Rousay, Egilsay, and Wyre, censuses from 1841 to 1901 as well as monumental inscriptions from all the cemeteries in these three islands.

Historical Geography

You can see the administrative areas in which Rousay and Egilshay has been placed at times in the past. Select one to see a link to a map of that particular area.


The Little General and the Rousay Crofters
Author: William P.L. Thomson
Published in 1981.
Describes the strife between the notorious General Frederick W.T. Burroughs of Rousay and the crofters on the land that he owned which was one of the factors that led to the passing of the 1886 Crofters Act, the main provisions of which protected crofters from eviction and from arbitrary rents.


You can see maps centred on OS grid reference HY426303 (Lat/Lon: 59.155680, -3.005349), Rousay and Egilshay which are provided by:

Names, Geographical

The Place-Names of Rousay
Author: Hugh Marwick
First Published 1947 by W.R. Mackintosh (now the Orcadian Ltd) Kirkwall. Reprinted in 1995 by Brinnoven Publishing, 9 Thomsen Green, Livingston, West Lothian, EH54 8TA, Scotland and available at booksellers in Orkney. ISBN: 1-899851-00-3.
An 83-page booklet that not only gives the origins of hundreds of Rousay place names and farm names but also delves into the history of the island and some of its early families.



1811 = 795
1831 = 921
1851 = 939
1871 = 851
1881 = 873
1891 = 774
1900 = 627
1951 = 342
2001 = 250
1841 = 194
1851 = 190
1861 = 205
1871 = 163
1881 = 176
1891 = 147
1961 = 54
1991 = 46
2001 = 25
1831 = 93
1851 = 62
1871 = 78
1881 = 80
1891 = 67
1961 = 47
1991 = 28
2001 = 16


From My Rousay Schoolbag
Author: Robert C. Marwick
Published by Brinnoven Publishing, 9 Thomson Green, Livingston, West Lothian, EH54 8TA, Scotland. 1995. 85 p., 22 illus., ISBN 0-899851-03-8.
History of schooling in Rousay from 1725 to the present day, along with the reminisences of former pupils.