Full Circle:An Orkney family reunited after 200 years Separated by distance and culture (Part 2)

By Kim Twatt

Full Circle: An Orkney family reunited after 200 years Separated by distance and culture (Part 1)

Magnus Twatt….

In September the same year Magnus hurt his ankle which became much swelled but was sent to set up a settlement in order to hunt food for Cumberland House. There he also carried out general carpenter’s work.

During February the following year he spent seven days away trapping martens, returning with 18 having set 130 traps. At the end of that Outfit Year (An Outfit Year ran from 1st June to 31st May) Magnus sent his resolve for £15 per annum.

Which I cannot say is more than he really deserves he being a very handy man if he continued here, there will be no occasion for a carpenter as he is capable of doing any things that may be required here.

So wrote William Tomison, Chief at Cumberland House. In his reply, York Factory Govenor, Humphrey Marten wrote,

Glad to hear Magnus Twatt continues so useful and will inform their Honors of it.

On September 27th, 1778 Magnus was again sent up the Saskatchewan River with a party commanded by Robert Longmoor. The party consisted of eleven white men and six native men. They followed the river for about forty miles above Sturgeon Fort, where the Canadian traders had built a number of houses. Here they were stopped by the ice forming in the river and were obliged to remain there for the winter.

So things didn’t always run too well. The 1779/80 records tell us he injured a hand and later hurt his leg on a roof . He fell into a badger hole, once again injuring his ankle. In the Journal of Philip Turnor, an entry dated April 4th, 1779 mentions an incident which involved William Holmes, a Canadian trader, and Magnus Twatt. Holmes apparently had a habit of locking trading natives in his stockade to force them to trade with him. Magnus took exception to the practice and William Holmes

beat and ill used him without further provocation.

An entry in the York Fort Journal, July 5th tells us that Magnus was among 33 canoes which arrived from Cumberland House carrying around 5,000 made beaver in sundry furrs. Two men drowned when one of the canoes struck a rock. The major part of the goods were recovered four miles down river.

Some of Magnus’s tasks, besides carpentry, included buffalo hunting, repairing natives’ guns, collecting natives and pelts and operating the press.

Magnus Twatt image R Foden

Photo: R Foden

From Robert Longmoor’s Journal, Wednesday, March 22nd, 1780:

This day Magnus Twatt and William Omand arrived with the Indians from Beaver Country, I had a small quantity of brandy for them, but their leaders could not persuade them to build canoes so that they all went to the Canadian traders sore against their wills…

Smallpox and famine swept through the native people. It is estimated that the epidemic of 1781/2 killed more than half of the Cree in the Hudson Bay watershed. A letter from William Walker at Hudson’s House dated December 4th, 1781 includes:

After a fine passage of 18 days we arrived here where we found the house all standing safe as when we left it and wanting very little repair 12 Tents of Indians Upon the Plantation.

I am sorry I should have such disagreeable News to send You but the small pox is raging all around us with great violence, sparing very few that take it. We have received news of above 9 tents of Indians within here, all dead, the tents left standing and the bodies left inside unburied, as for stone Indians there are very few if any left alive which will make this one of the Worst Years that ever the Honorable Hudson’s Bay Company Servants hath seen both for furs and provisions…

…Provisions have not at this time above 35 Days for 15 men at the House at half Allowance which makes me to send away the men with the paquet to Vizt. Magnus Twatt, Robert Davey…

…there is not the least likelyhood of any more provisions coming in this year, for indeed where is to come from when the Indians is dying daily.

Whether Magnus remained there for the winter or returned to Hudson’s House, he was certainly there on March 14th,1782 when we read;

Magnus Twatt and James Tait came home and brot. 40 made Beavers in Coats which they found Upon Indian Debtors, all Dead, they also found 19 more made Beaver in Cats, which had been thrown to the good Spirrit, that they might live for their diligence and care in searching for these they went after, I have given them 3 Yards of cloth as Encouragement for their fatigues they inform me they found 13 men Women and Children Dead all laying along the pitching track, Except one they had put Upon a Stage also found two Men, one Old woman, a Girl and three boys alive six days journey from here.

Life for everyone must have been tough and at times unbearably sad. Actions appear callous but I will make no judgements here.

To Be Continued…….


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