Written by his son, Robert Burgar, 1957
About 106 years ago a man by the name of Tom Burgar came from Westray to the farm of Cott in Pharay with his wife, whose maiden name was Betsy Seatter, their son Robert who was then eight years old, and a daughter. When Robert grew up he married Miss Elizabeth Harcus of Doggerboat with whom he had two daughters, Catherine and Tomima, and one son William who in his young days was called Billy to distinguish him from his young cousin William Drever, whose parents had died when he was very young and who had been taken to Cott to live with his aunt and uncle.
The two boy lived very happily together and played as brothers but when Willie Drever grew older he when out to work for himself. The two Burgar girls married very young and left home, Tomima being only 17 when she married and wont with her husband to Australia where she lived till a few years ago when she died at a ripe old age.
Billy lived at home with his parents and as soon as he could haul cod he went to sea with the older men and when he was old enough to be useful with the handling of a boat he always went with his father and nothing pleased him better than to go off and haul cod and haddock, when about twenty he went with an Eday man Robert Harcus to the herring fishing in the summer months in the Edayman's boat, the "Sea Bird", a boat about 50 fee long. They fished from Stronsay. The herring fishing banks were roughly 30miles east of Stronsay.
(For at least the firsts half of his life most of the inhabitants of the islands were tenant farmers, paying rent, or to call it by its ancient Norse name "skat" to the laird. Pharay's laird was that of Westray. William remembers seeing some of his relatives, with David Drover 2 of Hamar at the helm, outsailing the 1aird's factor on one occasion whom they were going in to pay their skat in the form of bags of gain. It was the custom to test the quality of the grain by wetting the arm in the sea and then thrusting it into a bag the quality of the grain adhering to the arm could then be judged when it was withdrawn. This time, as you've already guessed the grain was considered definitely inferior. D.D.)
About the year 1894 Billy lost his father in a bad boating accident in which he also was nearly lost. They had been over to Westray with a Mr, James Flett, the Rectors clerk who had been to Pharay taking the rents in the month of November, and were returning in the darkness and to avoid the strong current they had gone rather close to the point of Dogbones on Pharay Helm when their boat was overturned by the heavy land sea (breakers) Billy was rescued by two of his Pharay neighbours who had heard his cries for help. This was a very sad event in his otherwise happy life and one which left its mark on him for all time afterwards. (Bob reported seeing the keel of the boat still visible in the water during the summer of 1950. D. D.)
He had now begun to court a Westray girl whose parents had come to the farm of Feraness in Eday with their family. Her name was Mary Stewart Groat. Over a mile of troubled water separated Eday from Pharay at this point and when Billy wanted to visit her he did so in a small boat. He married her in February, 1896, and took her to Pharay where they lived with his mother at Cott till 1915 when they shifted to the farm of Feraness which became vacant then.
About the time he married the cod fishing had become finished owing to the steam trawlers hauling all the fish from the outer fishing grounds. So he had to rely mostly on the farm for a living and also to the lobster fishing. All his farming days in Pharay the work was done with oxen. A young ox was trained every year and the older ox, a four year old was always sold when the spring work was finished, thus ensuring a little revenue usually about 12 pounds for about a 15 cwt. ox. Such were the good old days.
Perhaps it should be explained too that when he first started to fish lobsters and for many years after they were fished with rings. This was a fairly heavy ring made of about ¾” (19 mm) iron rod and about 2' 6"(760 mm) in diameter with a net similar to a landing net attached. A bait was fastened in the centre and a rope attached for hauling. This had to be done very smartly so that the pressure kept the lobster (if any) hard against the net to prevent escape. When the present day "creel" was invented, it was reckoned to be a big advantage. At that time lobsters were about 6d, each. Billy did fairly well at the lobster fishing, going with one or other of his cousins, Tom or Peter Harcus of Doggerboat, or latterly with James Groat. James and Billy were big, powerful men, very skilful and daring boatman, and often going to the lobsters in very rough weather.
In December of 1908 a great snow storm swept over the British isles including Orkney and the Peterhead. The storm fishing trawler "Hope" which had been anchored in Fersness Bay, Eday, had her main anchor chain cut by the screw of another trawler which had drifted down on her, thus causing her to drift before the gale and in total darkness, till finally she went ashore on Pharay Helm, (The magnificent horror of a combination of a mid-west American blizzard with the sea described by the "British Islands Pilot" (page 6 is beyond imagination. D.D.)
The story continued in the words of Bob's uncle, John Groats:
"How Captain Youngson and him crew ever managed to get to the shore amid such a tempest of snow and heavy seas will always remain a mystery, but here again the hand of Providence was guiding them into a haven of safety -- like Paul's shipwreck they all escaped to land, some on one thing, and some on another, where, in a crevice of rock, they were all found huddled together and nearly dead from cold and exhaustion lying there through a long winter night on an isolated holm.
"Leaving them there in their forlorn and pathetic state and their vessel a prey to the merciless waves of the North Sea, 1et us turn our attention to the neighbouring island of Pharay where the inhabitants had begun to stir. As the first streaks of day were approaching they discovered a wreck on the Holm, with about a half a mile of broken sea between them and her. Duty was clear, and at her call there was a hurried muster of the men available on the island, a consultation, than a rushing to their old beak strand, i.e. the Quay, where they had each their fishing boat nousted and secured.
without tarrying to lament the lack of either lifeboat or rocket apparatus in such an ?ur of distress, Willie Burgar's yawl, a well built boat, 13 feet of keel, named Mary“and a good sea boat, was at once launched and with five picked men they struck out for the scene of the disaster. The names of the Heroes who manned the boat were as follows;1. Robert Reid; 2. William Burgar; 3. James Groat; 4. John Harcus; 5. John Drever. Ropes and lines were procured and with them a cable was made, one end of which was left ashore in charge of willing helpers while the other was taken in charge by those in the boat, thus forming a communication between land and sea, and by means of the cable assistance would be lent at the proper time in order to help the rescue party on their return, as two trips were deemed necessary to complete the work of rescue and the strength of the rescuers would be taxed to the utmost, so that all available help in the dangerous task had to be assured. It will be seen, therefore, that there were heroes ashore as well as afloat.
"when the party got to the plighted fishermen, they found them mostly all in a state of exhaustion. Some of them were so weak that they had to be carried to the rescue boat. They were all safely landed on the island of Pharay and divided amongst the various families, with careful attention and the application or restoratives their strength was gradually restored, and after several days the men were able to proceed to Kirkwall, thence to their several homes in Aberdeen never forgetting the dear island of Pharay.
"Meantime the public had got word of all the affair. Officials put the case before Dr, Carnegie, who responded by presenting each of the five men with a cheque for 16 pounds at a public function held in Kirkwall. But their recognition did not end there. Tangible and valuable tokens came to them from far, even a lump at gold in its raw and natural state came from the distant colonies. The crowning point of the whole affair, however, was reached in the autumn of the year 1909 when the heroes were asked to appear before the King (Edward VII) at Balmoral Castle as a special mark of honour and esteem. (There they had a splendid time, were presented with medals and pipes by the King, were duly captured by the well-known Edwardian charm, and banquetted in the appropriate fashion. D.D.)“
Willie had become a member of the Eday Church about the time he married and about 1910 he became an elder of that church a position he held as long as he was able to walk the three miles or thereby each way to church, which was in 1945. He retired from farming in 1936 and lived in a small wooden house, on a corner of ground on the farm which he had sold to Mr. John Mei1, but still in sight of Pharay and the sounds he had crossed so often in his day“
He had also given up the fishing, unless cuith fishing along the shore which he still enjoyed. He very often visited Shoehall at the other side of Fersness Bay where his son Robert and his family had taken up farming, and it still gave him great pleasure to go of to the lobster fishing with them. He passed away very peacefully in December 1952, at the age of 84.
Thus ends Bob's story of his father's life.
William was every inch the innate aristocrat, Tall, handsome, and a gentleman. A merciful man. Robert, his son, and Mary Stewart, his daughter, are like him. These people possess a genuine humility, a true sense of values. They could walk with the great of this earth and not be dwarfed.