Alexander Graham & Non Payment of Unfair Taxes

Alexander Graham fountain 2The People of Stromness have always been a peedie bit rebellious  and today 16th April the Orkney News is pleased to commemorate the man who died on this day in 1783, Alexander Graham.

Today Alexander Graham has a fountain and Graham Place is named after him. The cast iron fountain by Walter McFarlane & Co dates from 1901 and was produced by the Saracen Foundry. It no longer works as a fountain but tends to be used as a mini roundabout by motorists.

It’s a rather splendid fountain with a plaque on one side to commemorate Alexander Graham and on the other side there is a quote by another of Stromness’ famous son’s George Mackay Brown. The ‘new’ plaque was unveiled as part of the town’s ‘Per Mare’ celebrations in 2017 to mark it’s 200 years as a Burgh of Barony.

Alexander Graham’s story dates back to the Treaty of Union: Scotland and England. In 1707 Kirkwall was a thriving Royal Burgh. Business in Stromness on the West side of Mainland Orkney was also picking up apace but it was not a Royal Burgh. In fact due to some of the smaller print (1719) in the Act of Union Royal Burghs were able to levy heavy taxes on traders outside their boundaries.

The merchants of Stromness were none too pleased at this – not only were they losing money but it was holding the town back from developing. Why invest in trade in Stromness when Kirkwall gets the benefits?

It’s a familiar story of paying taxes to a larger neighbour thus deterring investment in your own community.

This went on for 2 decades and then in 1742 Stromness merchant John Johnston refused to pay. This set off a long campaign of non-payment by the rebellious Stromness traders led by Alexander Graham.

After fines and a long legal case the Stromness traders eventually won in 1758 and their good town gained its independence from Kirkwall. Stromness has never looked back it became busier, trade increased and its importance as a port grew throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Alexander Graham, however, was less fortunate for as we all know legal cases are expensive and it ruined him financially. He even landed in prison as a debtor. But the non-payment campaign was extremely important and its eventual success brought prosperity to an independent Stromness.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame



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5 replies »

  1. “It’s a familiar story of paying taxes to a larger neighbour thus deterring investment in your own community.”

    Hmmmmmmmmm – what ever do you mean, Fiona?

  2. Does anyone know if Alexander Graham had any children – I am looking for the the name of the father of Duncan Graham who worked for The Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada from about 1795 and die and buried in Minnesota in the USA. He had 4 daughters

  3. Thank you for the link …. only Members can search that site to see it there is a family tree for your Alexander Graham.
    I see I cut my original comment short – it should have said: My 3X Great Grandfather ‘Duncan Graham’ had 4 daughters and one son “Alexander” Graham.

    Duncan worked for the Hudson’s Bay as a fur trader in Canada from about 1795 on many rivers in North and South Dakota and Minnesota, USA. He fought for the British side in the 1812 was and was awarded the position of ‘Captain’. We know that the Hudson’s Bay Co. recruited many people from Orkney Islands and that is why I am very interested in your Alexander Graham.

    Maybe someone know the answer to my question…


    Wayne Fuller

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