By Kim Twatt
The Legacy continued…
A chance “meeting” on a Web site with Mr Paul Thistle in Canada put some intriguing pieces in the jigsaw. Mr Thistle had written a paper entitled The Twatt Family, 1780-1840: Amerindian, Ethnic Category, or Ethnic Group Identity? The paper had been planned as a preliminary step into further work on a full scale history of mixed descent groups in the lower Saskatchewan River region. Most of the information gathered round Mansack and Willock Twatt, sons of Magnus and their Cree mother. Magnus had been of servant class rather than that of manager/gentleman therefore his children would not have been brought up in the post or have been closely associated with Cumberland House. It would have been the case for these children to be brought up by their mother and her family. Cumberland House journals refer to the boys both as Half Breeds and Indians. They appear to have travelled, hunted and traded as Crees but from the Hudson’s Bay Company received rather more considerations than their Cree companions. Mansack Twatt was referred to in 1819 as a good hunter who knows his value, in 1837 as Chief from the Nepiwans by a clerk at Cumberland House, and in 1839 as the principal of our upper Indians.
Mr Paul Thistle points to evidence suggesting close relations between Magnus and the Crees. There was the incident in which Magnus defended the native trader. The journals mention Magnus manufacturing snow shoes and sleds, articles usually supplied by the natives. Then, finally, Magnus was buried by the natives which would have come about only by close kinship and positive relationship with his wife’s Cree family.
I was amused to find that Mr Thistle had searched long and hard to find from which country the names Mansack and Willock came. I had to explain that William Tomison, who kept some the Hudson’s Bay Company journals, was from South Ronaldsay in Orkney where the name Magnus becomes Mansack and William becomes Willock.
By 1804 the Twatt Mortification School was built and in use. As requested, it was built in the township of Kirbister, part of Sir William Honyman’s Graemsay Estate. In 1828 this estate was sold to John Balfour of Trenabie. Around that time Mr Balfour made some notes including:
A person of the name of Twatt died some years ago and left the sum of £700 to Trustees for the endowment of a school for the parish of Orphir. Two acres of… land of Kirbister toun accordingly fued out for a school and schoolhouse by Sir W. Honyman for an annual payment of 20/- (£1) per annum for which fue duty is now of course payable to Mr Balfour.
Over the years this sum had indeed been paid by teachers Spence and Tait, and at other times by the minister.
Children were taught there until the Scottish Education Act came into being in 1872, and beyond. They were taught, among other subjects, about Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Today the building is the home of Mrs J. Ridgway. It is a splendid, stone, two-storey house in a beautiful setting to the south of the main Kirkwall to Orphir Road close by Kirbister Mill. Mrs Ridgway found an almost complete classroom in the building when she and her late husband purchased the house in the 1970s. A map of Canada with much of the territory as yet uncharted was recovered, and behind an old mantelpiece she found a letter addressed to The Keeper of the Poor, since part of the building, indeed, had been the poor hoose.
When the authorities built the new school after 1872 Twatt’s school and house were rented by a Wilson family, paying rent (in 1914 at £4 per annum) to the trustees. In 1924 family representatives were able to purchase the house for £100. Through the years the fund had been used to provide education and care such as the school/poor house and university bursaries. Money was also given as loans to farmers for the purchase of land, as well as being invested in housing. In 1933 The Twatt Mortification Trust was re-named the Orkney Education Trust.
The 1821 Census places Helen Twatt (age 70-80) at the old family home at Kirbister, today a ruin behind the mill, and Jane Twatt (servant, age 60-70) close by at Moss.