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THE SINCLAIRS OF CONYAR, HARRAY

No special enquiry has as yet been made as to the origin of this branch of the lineage, from which the author of this work [Roland Saint Clair of New Zealand] derives. It is, however, variously stated that they are cadets of the Sinclairs of Damsay and Kingshouse (Konungs-garth); of the Sinclairs of Craya, Stromness; and of the Sinclairs of Beboran, Harray, from whom Conyar is held, the last statement - which does not necessarily contradict the others - being the most likely one.

JEROME SINCLAIR, shipmaster in Stromness, and James Allen, his servitor, on 18th December 1725, witness the Disposition by Edward Sinclair, last of Campston. In 1705 Jerome Sinclair was in Seatter, Stromness; he, or a successor, appears in various records in 1718, 1747, '48, '52, '58, '61 and '70.

CHARLES SINCLAIR, son of the preceding, is party to an instrument in 1758, and later on inherits Beboran in Harray, as only living son of the said Jerome Sinclair.

ROBERT SINCLAIR, FIRST OF CONYAR (1), is probably identical with Robert Sinclair in Harray, 1747, and of Furse, there, 1753. In his time the Norse language continued to be spoken in Harray, notable as the only Orcadian parish untouched by the sea, and also on account of there being about 100 proprietors, "The Hundred Lairds of Harray," who for the most part hold the same lands their ancestors held centuries back, by prescriptive right as Odallers (Proceres Orcadium), a "Yeomanry nobility" dependent in no way on charter or deed as the root of title, and under no feudal superior, not even king or earl. Robert Sinclair of Conyar had issue two sons, whose relative seniority is undetermined.

NOTE - Proceres Orcadium - See Buchanan's "History of Scotland"

  1. THOMAS
  2. WILLIAM
THOMAS SINCLAIR, SECOND OF CONYAR (2) born about 1758; married about 1781 Marjory Kirkness, a connection of Kirkness of Kirkness, Sandwick. They had issue three daughters, who died unmarried in advanced years, and one son:
  1. ROBERT, next of Conyar, born in 1782.
  2. MARGARET.
  3. MERCY.
  4. ELSPETH, baptised 24th July 1785.
WILLIAM SINCLAIR (3) born about 1760; married in 1789 Jean Tulloch of Moen in Harray. He resided in Conyar until November 1805, when he and his family removed to "The House of Howe" in the district or township of Bimbuster, Harray. He died the same year, and his widow then removed to Teevath, in the same neighbourhood, where she reared her family. Upon the marriage in 1825 of her daughter Margaret to Magnus Johnston of Muce, Birsay, he had a house built for her, where she dwelt until her death in 1834. She vas a connection of Scarth, first of Binscarth, and her daughter Margaret is found witnessing the baptism of a child born to Nicol Scarth. William Sinclair had issue in Conyar -
  1. JEAN, baptised 28th November 1790; died young.
  2. MARGARET, baptised 11th July 1793; died l0th July 1374; married 17th December 1825, as second wife, Magnus Johnston of the House of Muce in Sabiston, Birsay.
  3. WILLIAM, born 10th February 1795, of whom presently.
  4. ROBERT, baptised 11th June 1797; drowned in Shields harbour about 1820; unmarried.
  5. JEAN, bap, 19th May 1799; died young.
  6. ANN, born 16th April 1803 (St.Magnus' Day); died in Muce cir, 1861; married in 1831 Peter Merriman of Stromness, who died same year, leaving posthumous issue.
  7. JOHN, born 22nd March 1805; lost at sea about 1826
ROBERT SINCLAIR, THIRD OF CONYAR (4) born 1782; died 1861; married in 1822 Barbara Yorston of Howan, Sabiston, Birsay (who died in 1839), and had in Conyar -
  1. ROBERT, born 23rd December 1824.
  2. BARBARA, born 20th October 1826; resident Conyar; single.
  3. MARGARET, born 20th July 1828; resident Conyar; single.
  4. JAMES, born 11th May 1830; died in Melbourne, unmarried.
  5. THOMAS BLYTH, born 4th August 1834.
  6. JOHN, born 28th December 1838; is an elder of the Established Church; resident Conyar; single.
CAPTAIN WILLIAM SINCLAIR (10) Harbourmaster of Kirkwall, was born in Conyar, Harray, on the 10th February 1795. He married in Harray about 1822 Elisabeth, fourth daughter of Magnus Flett of Garth, there, by his second wife Katherine Berwick, of whom she was the second daughter. The only surviving son of his widowed mother, William Sinclair went to sea at an early age. In 1835-36 he was chief officer on board of the "Lavinia" of Stromness, Captain James Leask, trading between Stromness and foreign parts - Liverpool, Limerick, Holland, Russia, etc. At that time Stromness was the port of call for the Hudson Bay Company's ships, and was a place of rising importance with a local company owning several trading vessels. William Sinclair was for some time captain of a trading schooner called the "Victory," of Stromness, in which he held some shares. In 1841, or earlier, he was captain of the schooner "Sir Joseph Banks", owned in Kirkwall, and trading between that port and Leith since 1800. [From Barry]. The town crier of those days used to extol her as a "fast sailing clipper packet"- thirty-four hours was a smart passage.

He changed his residence in 1842-43, removing from the north end of Stromness to the Broad Street, Kirkwall, where about 1846 he began business as a produce merchant. The potato disease that so severely afflicted Ireland visited Orkney soon after, and for four or five years the crop was a failure. Captain Sinclair became a great benefactor to the townsfolk, by bringing over food supplies from Aberdeen, by steamer arriving every Saturday, when his premises were crowded by people anxiously awaiting and afraid to miss their turn.

He became Harbour-master of the port of Kirkwall in or about 1850, which position he held till his death. At first, while trade was small, he could manage to conduct his own business as well, but in a few years the post needed his full attention and that of one or two clerks also. He was a very popular man, thoroughly trusted by all who had any dealings with him, and literally respected by all who knew him. A good and diligent man of business, he was a kind friend to many who sought his advice.

He and his wife acquired on 8th August 1850, by Disposition from Robert Louttit, sometime Collector of Customs at Kirkwall, a house or tenement of land fronting the Broad Street, Kirkwall, for which Instrument of Sasine issued 13th May 1854. He was admitted Burgess and Guild Brother of Kirkwall 6th November 1851. The ticket is on vellum, the seal of the Burgh is on red wax, encased in a tin round and attached to the parchment by means of a ribbon of royal blue colour. He executed a Disposition and Deed of Settlement 15th August 1868, appointing as his trustees Thomas Traill of Holland; Andrew Gold, Chamberlain for the Earl of Shetland, residing at Grainbank: James Scarth Spence, banker in Kirkwall; Robert Tulloch, merchant in Kirkwall: and Peter Sinclair Heddle, Writer [lawyer] there.

At the time of his death Captain Sinclair was the most eminent of his name in the Isles. He was nearly related to the late Robert Scarth of Binscarth, the Rev. Dr. Logie of St.Magnus' Cathedral Kirk, and Provost Bane of Kirkwall. His wife (born 17th August 1797) had died on the 13th September, 1861, and he followed her to the grave 25th July 1874. Both lie buried in the kirkyard of St.Magnus' Cathedral, where a tombstone preserves them to memory. Children born in Stromness:

  1. WILLIAM, born 20th November 1823;, went to sea in 1840, fell from the main-gaff of the brig "Useful" early in 1841, and stove in his side. The wound appeared to be healed, and, unconscious of his impending fate, his constant and cheerful letters to his mother always ended, "Yours until death". In May 1842, the wound became serious, and he returned home, dying in Stromness on St.Clair's Eve, 16th July 1842. He was buried in Harray, where a tombstone marks the spot.
  2. JAMES LEASK, born 15th April 1828 (St.Magnus' Eve).
  3. JANE FLETT, born 7th October 1834; died unmarried at Edinburgh 30th November 1880, where she had been subjected to curative treatment, as in 18S6 she became mentally weak. Letters written by her before that date appear those of a thoroughly practical and normal person.
  4. JOHN BEATTON, born 15th January 1837; died in 1845, and was buried in Kirkwall.
ROBERT SINCLAIR, FOURTH OF CONYAR (15) was born there on the 23rd December 1824. He married Margaret, daughter of Thomas Sinclair of Beboran. Issue:
  1. A daughter resident in Conyar.

THOMAS BLYTH SINCLAIR (19) born in Conyar 4th August 1834; is married and has a large family of sons and daughters. In early life he went to South Africa. He resides at 38 Canning Street, in Liverpool, where he carries on business as "Sinclair & Ellwood", ship chandlers and provision merchants, 41 South Castle Street; warehouse, 3 & 5 King St. (Glasgow agents, James Porteous & Son, 5 Dixon Street)

JAMES LEASK SINCLAIR (22) - second son and eventually (1880) sole surviving issue of the late William Sinclair (see Number 10), sometime merchant and Harbourmaster of the Port of Kirkwall - was born at Stromness, Orkney, on the 15th April 1828 (St.Magnus' Eve). He was named after a brother of the late Henry Leask of Boardhouse - the Capt. James Leask who had charge of the "Lavinia," when William Sinclair was next in command.

He went first to school in May 1836. When about ten years of age his mother remarked in jest that a new jacket she was finishing was for him to go to Russia with on his father's ship. He made good her words by going down that same afternoon to the vessel, on which be stowed safely away, nor did he show himself until too far from port to put back with him. So he got his trip to Russia after all, returning safely after an absence of several months, to be the hero of his school-mates for having at so early an age travelled over the "Viking Path".

His school course was ended in about his fifteenth year, when he became a junior clerk in the warehouse of Messrs. R. Brotchie and Company, tea merchants in Leith, with whom he remained for about five years, rising from a junior to a senior clerkship. While in Leith he attended the classes in Edinburgh at the Watt Institution, and otherwise endeavoured to increase his knowledge by every possible means, commencing his studies at half-past three every morning in summer. As a consequence he made the most marked improvement, and letters written by him at the age of eighteen show the finished composition that is usually attained by persons of literary gifts only in their thirties or forties, and a beautifully clear hand characteristic penmanship that we only expect to see from an accountant with a standing of years.

Leaving Leith, he secured a clerical position with Messrs. Harrison & Crossfields, of 3 Great Tower Street, London, E.C. But he had imbibed a love of travel, and so left and went to America. He was a short time in New York City, and had he made up his mind to stay could have done very well. At one time he was boating on the Mississippi, at another in Cincinnati, seldom staying long in any one place, as he preferred to travel as much as possible.

About two years were thus spent, when he had an attack of fever and ague, ailments general to persons travelling through, but not permanent in those parts. In 1851 or 1852 he returned to Kirkwall to recruit his health, where, staying with his parents, he pursued his studies at pleasure, occasionally, for, his personal delectation, contributing local news to the John o' Groats or the Scotsman, and afterwards to the Orcadian, a local paper which he was instrumental in establishing.

He married at Kirkwall 29th January 1857, Mary, only child of John Mowat, of Rarewick, Tankerness, in the Earldom of Orkney, by Mary Muir, his wife. Shortly after this event he reentered the service of Messrs. Harrison & Crossfields, but the excessive heat of the following summer impaired his health, and he was compelled to return to Kirkwall where he took over his father's business, but meeting with poor encouragement, he removed to Stromness in August 1862, and tried there in the same line of business, but without success.

Then he went to Scotland and took up a book agency for the Rev. Charles Rogers, and removed his wife and four children to Stirling, where a very trying winter was experienced.

The next year, accompanied by his wife and children, he took passage to New Zealand by the "King of Italy," arriving at Auckland on the 6th September, 1865, after a voyage of ninety-three days from Gravesend, the second son William dying on board ship, 8th July 1865. By virtue of being a passenger he was entitled to a Crown grant of 180 acres of land, which he selected at Hokianga, and subsequently be received an additional grant of 60 acres from the Auckland Provincial Government for arrears of salary. A few weeks after his arrival he received an appointment from the Auckland Board of Education, but upon that institution suspending payment he took to journalism and private tuition.

He held Board appointments at Kaurihohore, Auckland, in 1871-72; Taita, Wellington, 1873-75; Board of Education Office, Auckland, 1876; and at Ardmore, Auckland, 1884-85, when he came in for a small inheritance, which enabled him to retire from arduous duties. Early in 1893 he settled at Otahuhu, a suburb distant some eight miles from Auckland City, where he interested himself in the progress of the local Mutual Improvement Society. He left his residence in his accustomed health on the evening of the 11th November 1895, to attend an entertainment on the occasion of the breaking-up of the Society, on returning home from which he was seized with an apoplectic or paralytic attack, and must have lain on the roadside all that night - the stormiest of the season - unmissed by the members of his household who had retired, and untended save by a faithful house dog, "Spot". Mr. Sinclair was found early the next morning, and at once conveyed home and medical attendance procured. There appeared some glimmerings of pleased consciousness in response to expressions of affection from his family, but he was gradually sinking, and expired late at night on the 12th November 1895.

The New Zealand Herald has this reference to him: -
"His familiar figure will be greatly missed in Otahuhu. He was a kind, genial man, well read, and full of information. His grasp of the general character and methods of science - particularly what is called natural history science - his knowledge of literature and all literary subjects, combined with great kindness of manner, were invaluable in a community like Otahuhu. Up to the very last he kept up a correspondence with the leading literary and scientific men in England and America. It may be truly said of him that he tried to learn what is true, in order to do what is right.

"BOARD OF EDUCATION. - The late Mr. J.L. Sinclair: At the Board of Education on November 19th, 1895, a well deserved tribute of respect was paid to the memory of Mr. J.L. Sinclair, an old servant of the board, and one who had done service in the office and in the schools, on the motion of the senior member of the Board, Mr. S. Luke, who moved that a letter of coudolence be sent to the widow and children of the deceased gentleman, and in speaking in support of it he said the deceased gentleman was an estimable man, and a personal friend of his own. Since his retirement from the Board's services he had taken much interest in educational matters. Three of his daughters were now in the service of the Board, and another, who had to resign on account of ill-health, graduated from their own University College, and had taken her degree as a Master of Arts, with honours in Latin and English. Under the circumstances it seemed to him (Mr. Luke) only right that the services of such an old teacher should be recognised. The motion was seconded by the Rev. Canon Bates, and supported by several other members of the Board, who referred to Mr. Sinclair's faithful services in the cause of education. It is needless to say that Mr. Luke's kindly motion was carried unanimously".

At the twenty-third session of the Otahuhu Mutual Improvement Association on 1st May 1896, the attendance was very large. After the minutes had been read, a vote of condolence and sympathy with the widow and family of an old member, the late Mr. J.L. Sinclair, was passed, When the motion was put the whole audience rose from their seats and remained standing.

Mr. and Mrs. Sinclair conjointly produced "Orcadian Rhymes" a volume of poems which they published at Kelso in 1864, and each have from time to time written fugitive verses. Mr. Sinclair wrote an excellent Ode on the occasion of the Shaksperian Tercentenary, and won a prize of five guineas for forty lines in verse appropriate to the opening of the Opera House in Auckland in 1882: the five guineas went forthwith to the fund then in course of collection for the distressed Jews in Russia. He identified himself with politics when in Orkney, and continued to do so until the last.

He has left a vast amount of epistolary literature extending over many years from persons eminent in Great Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. In these the signatures of Sir John Lubbock, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bright, etc., frequently come under notice. He left some 3,000 volumes, which by testamentary disposition 25th March 1886, were bequeathed to the Auckland University College, and from which number that institution has selected 580 volumes. James Leask Sinclair, heritor [landowner] of Kirkwall, Orcadian verse writer, and New Zealand colonist, is survived by his wife, by whom he had issue -

  1. ELISABETH, born at Kirkwall 13th February 1859; resident Pollok, New Zealand.
  2. JANE FLETT, born at Kirkwall 2nd January 1861; resident Hautapu, New Zealand.
  3. ROWLAND WILLIAMS, born at Kirkwall 9th July 1862.
  4. WILLIAM, born at Stromness 9th Mar 1864; died 8th July 1865 on board "King of Italy"
  5. JOHN WILLIAM COLENSO, born Takapuna, N.Z., l0th April 1866; died Auckland, 2nd January 1867.
  6. MARY MUIR, born Onehunga 2nd June 1868; graduate M.A., 1889, N.Z. University; resident Otahuhu.
  7. JAMES LEASK, born Auckland City 18th April 1870, and died same day.
  8. JOHN JAMES, born Kauriholtore 23rd January 1872; died Taita, 29th December 1873.
  9. WILLIAM HENRY, born Taita, 29th December 1873; died Taita, 31st October 1874.
  10. ELLEN EVANGELINE, born Taita 21st December 1875; resident Otahuhu
  11. CLARE, born and dead Auckland, 13th September, 1878.
  12. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, seventh son, born at Auckland 17th March 1880; collegiate; resident Otahuhu; is Secretary of the Mutual Improvement Society there.

ROLAND WILLIAM ST.CLAIR (28) came to New Zealand with his parents in 1865.

At the age of six he was in the highest class in the Newton Academy, an Auckland primary school; at twelve he passed highest of all scholars in the State schools of the Wellington Province, N.Z., and was proxime accessit for the College Scholarship of that year - 1874; he passed the Junior Civil Service Examination in 1883. In July 1876, he entered the office of the Wellington agency for McMeckan, Blackwood & Company's line of steamers in the Melbourne-New Zealand trade, and during his fifteenth and sixteenth years he occasionally went as acting purser on the steamers "Tui " and "Huia". In 1879 he transferred to Messrs. W. & G. Turnbull & Company, who had taken the agency of the "Tui " and "Huia," and remained in the service of that firm for seven years, retiring on the 31st May 1886, to rejoin his relatives in Auckland.

On the 9th July 1886, he varied his name by public announcement to the form he at present uses, and joined the staff of Messrs. T.H. Hall & Company, wholesale merchants in Auckland, on the 1st August 1887, in whose employ he continues to hold the position of accountant. Mr. St.Clair has been ardently interested in rowing and swimming, more especially the latter pastime. He was Deputy-Captain of the Wellington Rowing Club in 1886, and has since 1888 been a prominent official of the Auckland Swimming Club, of which he has been a director and is a gold-medallist life member. Mr. St.Clair was on the Committee of Management for the Jubilee Celebration at Auckland, and secured the inclusion of a Swimming Carnival on the 30th January 1890. It was held in the Calliope Dock. [See illustration "Swimming," Badminton Library, 1893] Over 10,000 persons paid for admission. The proceeds formed the nucleus of the fund towards endowing the Jubilee Institute for the Blind. He was first to apply the racing usage of numbering athletic competitors, a practice now general throughout New Zealand and elsewhere; and inaugurated the celebration of the 1st October in each year as "Natation Day," when Australasian clubs and associations assemble in re-union and exchange intercolonial courtesies by electric telegraph. Mr. St.Clair founded the New Zealand Amateur Swimming Association in 1890, and edited the Annuals published by that institution, with which he has, however, ceased to be identified. The numerous rules codified by him in the 1894-95 Annual have been adopted by the swimming centres throughout Australasia, and utilised by other athletic bodies in adapted form. The New Zealand Government ordered 500 copies of that issue for distribution amongst the primary schools.

In compliment to him the ST.CLAIR CROSS [See Vignette in Chapter V] was introduced into the design for the registered die, and to him is due in no small degree the decision of the New Zealand Government to reward bravery and merit in the saving of life by the presentation of gold, silver, and bronze medals. [Press Association telegram, 29th January 1896]

Reference to the author's ancestry discloses how essentially Orcadian is his origin. The northland names of Sinclair, Mowat, Flett, Tulloch, Berwick, Peace, Foubister, etc., marshall themselves in the list of his predecessors; and last century several of his ancestors spoke the Norse language. Mr. St.Clair accounts himself absolutely Norse by race.

Mr. St.Clair met with an accident in 1892 that compelled him to use crutches for nine months. During the evenings at home of that period this book was evolved and completed in the summer of 1893; the years intervening between then and now have been occupied in finishing off the work and collecting replies to outstanding queries.

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