Full Circle: An Orkney family reunited after 200 years separated by distance and culture (Part 3)

By Kim Twatt

Magnus Twatt….

In May, 1782 Magnus is again mentioned in the Cumberland House records as having been off hunting, returning with 28 geese.

By 1785 his position is given in Hudson’s Bay records as Canoeman at York Factory, receiving £20 per year plus £2 gratuity for working inland. Then between 1786 and 1791 as Carpenter and Canoeman, again at York Factory, he was receiving £30 per year At the same time William Tomison, described as Chief, was receiving £130 per year.

Entries in 1780 and 1790 next to Magnus’s name state, desires to come home, and in 1790, home next year, but records indicate that he remained in Canada at these times.

Another entry simply states: 1791 Was left to rebuild Cumberland House!

At that time Cumberland House was rebuilt across a small bay from the original, smaller post. From Cumberland House Journals, most of which were kept by Magnus Twatt between 1791-95, we can read that the nails ordered to build the house had not arrived so nails were removed from the old building as required for the new one. These journals give a daily account of the weather and the tasks performed by the men including mending nets, fishing, cutting and preparing wood, dealing with trading natives and fetching food, also from the native people.

In 1792/3 Magnus received £30 as Carpenter, Steerman & Canoebuilder also Master at C. Ho. 2 years past. Next year his pay increased by £6 per year and the title Occasional Master was added to his position. His post is given as York Inland rather than York Factory. He was described as a good carpenter and principal canoe builder.

In the journals positive comments regarding the attributes of the workers are rare. Malcholm Ross, who had already indicated that Magnus was remarkable for his dedication to his duties, wrote in April, 1794,

Magnus Twatt having had the Misfortune to fall Down the Hatchway on Friday Evening & hurt himself very much & he is not Able to do any Duty but with great Trouble his will to Work is such that I cannot Prevail on him to be at Rest a few Days till he gets Better but is working now & he is hardly Able to Stand.

The list of Homeward Bound Passengers on the King George in 1795 includes Magnus Twatt, Inland Trader. He received his previous year’s wage, £35, and arrived in Orkney on 3rd November. What changes did he notice had taken place in the 24 years since he left? His sister, Helen, had married John Wilson in 1778.

While in Orkney Magnus made out his will. It includes: …

To my mother, Ann Manson an annuity of ten pounds sterling per annum, during her natural life, and after her decease the annuity to devolve to my sisters, Ellen and Jean Twatt equally between them during their natural lives. The residue of my property… I give and bequeath for the purpose of erecting a school in the Town of Cirbister and the parish of Orphir, and for establishing a salary to a schoolmaster for teaching the children of the parish, to be under the direction of the heritors, minister and elders of the said parish… and what may be deamed by my executors an overplus for this purpose, they are to distribute annually to the poor of said parish…

The will was signed on June 24th, 1796 and witnessed by David Geddes and Mary Cruikshanks, Merchants, Stromness.

Magnus, like William Tomison, who later also left money for a school in his home parish in South Ronaldsay, had realised that the young Orcadian men who worked so well in Canada would do so much better if they could be educated as children.

Hudsons Bay York Factory map

From Wikimedia Commons

The following year Magnus returned to York Factory District where he worked inland now as a Trader. He was paid £35 + £2 bounty.

William Tomison wrote from Edmonton in 1797;

I embarked with two men in one canoe left Magnus Twatt in charge of Carleton House for summer and five more men. In 1798 Tomison writes; Embarked with 6 canoes for the Rock House and have left Magnus Twatt and several more to raft wood and build a store house …

In 1798 Magnus was again in charge of Carlton House situated below the junction of North and South Saskatchewan Rivers. James Bird of the Hudson’s Bay Company had originally set up this post to trade furs such as beaver, muskrat, fox and wolf as well as buffalo robes and dressed deer, moose and elk hides. However, Carlton House gained importance as a provision post providing locally available foods including pemican, berries, fish and venison.

As the rival North West Company were building at Setting River, James Bird sent Magnus Twatt and two men there on 6th September, 1798 to erect a post in opposition. Bird arrived at this Setting River post on October 28th, before Magnus had completed the roof! There Bird spent a disappointing winter with little trade. Replying to one of Bird’s letters, William Tomison wrote;

Indians has done nothing but running about from House to House there has been four of them in and brought no more than 40MBr (made beaver) amongst the whole, the other tribes have neither killed Wolves nor Foxes as they did last year owing to the want of snow and what they have brought is far from being good, one half of which is thrown away… we have just been able to keep from starving.

As for your leaving Setting River House sooner or later will be according to circumstances should your Opponents leave that place there will be no occasion for you to stay but should there be anything depending and your Opponents stay it will not do for you to go down to the other house but to give orders to Magnus Twatt to carry on the Canoe building in the best manner he can.

In 1800 Magnus agreed a further two year contract at £40 per year.

To be continued…..

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

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


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