John Garrioch & Admiral Alexander Graeme

It is estimated that 2,000 Orkney men served in the Navy during the wars with America and then with France. Of the landowners in Orkney at the time, Alexander Graeme, of Graemeshall, after many years of active service, including the loss of his arm, was made an Admiral. His main residence was not in Orkney but in a fine house at 87 Princes Street, Edinburgh. He had a factor to take care of his Orkney properties.

In 1796 Alexander Graeme wrote from Edinburgh to his factor, David Petrie, for a boy whom he could employ as a page. David Petrie recommended John Garrioch of Flaws, Paplay.:

“a well looking boy of thirteen years of age, pretty smart, and free from any kind of vice” (Orkney Herald and Advertiser, Tues 30 November, 1948)

John Garrioch was also able to read and write a little.

John sailed from Kirkwall to the port of Leith, Edinburgh on 18th of August 1796. In his possession was a letter of recommendation from David Petrie.

After 3 weeks of employment Admiral Graeme described John in a letter to his factor as follows:

“He seems to be a fine sedate boy, but little of his age. I hope he will grow to the height. I shall buy him all manner of clothes, and I have put him to school to read, write and learn arithmetic, and have sent him to a hairdresser to learn to shave and dress, so that at present he will be an expense and cannot expect wages. Afterwards I shall give him what will be satisfactory.”

Far from home, in the employment of the laird, and with no wages, this was not unusual. A young boy so employed and so dependent would be pliable and easily trained to serve.

Effie Sutherland, who was employed in the Princes Street home as the housekeeper, also wrote to David Petrie about John.

“John is quite happy and contented in his place. His parents would hardly know the little fellow; he is so brushed up. He has got clothes from head to foot and goes to school 3 or 4 hours every day. By what I can see of him he is diligent and attentive and will need very little correction. I hope he will grow to a proper size in time as it is very necessary for a lad in his place to grow to a good height. His mother’s folks are tall enough I’m sure.”

John was not paid any wages for a whole year when he received 2 guineas ( £2 2/-). On Sunday’s he spent the whole day at church from 7 am to 8pm.

When the Admiral was called back into active Naval service in 1799, John, aged about 16, went as part of his retinue. He now received a seaman’s wages and sent his parents £5 a year. Admiral Graeme was appointed Commander-in-Chief, The Nore in June 1799.

Admiral Graeme wrote:

“Last year I gave him £8. I find him livery clothes that he may save some money.”

In 1801, Nelson dined with Admiral Graeme at Sheerness, most likely with John serving at the table.

In 1805, John Garrioch became butler to Graeme.

Graeme died in Edinburgh on 5 August 1818 aged 76 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh.

“Graeme never married, and on his death the family estate passed to a distant relative in Jamaica whom he had never met.” (Alexander Graeme via More Than Nelson)

The grave of Admiral Alexander Graeme, Greyfriars Kirkyard Image credit Stephen Dickson

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