Burra Isle Families

This links in with the tune ‘Taing of Houss’ fully covered on the Shetland Links page.

The Taing and our family

When my wife and I took my mother (who was 50% Shetlander) to visit Burra in 1976 we were told by one of the island’s historians that my grandmother, a Pottinger at birth, was ‘one of the Taingie kind’. We weren’t very sure what that meant at the time but after years of research it is now fairly clear.

Our Pottingers are difficult to trace back into the eighteenth century due to missing documents but it is clear that in the early nineteenth century they were based at Southerhouse in the north of the isles of Burra. A marriage in the 1830s brought the Ewensons of Duncansclate into the picture and during the latter part of that decade (probably on account of a Ewenson death) our direct ancestors moved lock stock and barrel to Duncansclate. They remained there for almost forty years – slightly difficult to follow as there was another Pottinger family there with similar names (and who also wended their ways down to the Tyne and Wear in some cases).

By the 1850s there were eight boys and a girl in the family. By the early 1870s only the girl and two of the boys were living day to day on Burra. Two had drowned at sea and by 1880 another two were no more – one dead from consumption and the other of yellow fever. The wonderful Burra ledgers belonging to the fishing company shows that the father James and mother Grezzel moved with married son and successful fisherman John to the single croft on the Taing of Houss and gives the date as 1872. My great grandfather Thomas, by then part of the merchant marine, gave the Taing as his home address when he married in Lerwick in 1878. Both James and Grezzel died there in the 1880s. In the early twentieth century John and many members of his family moved to Vancouver but the last surviving member of the family -Laurence – seems to have been there till the end. His second wife Ann Jane Leask died there in 1913 followed by Laurence in 1917.

I visited the Taing a few years ago and played my tune in the ruins of the croft. All I know is that behind the modern salmon farm lie the ruined croft and an abandoned (later?) house. My family had a contact with the Taing from 1872 to 1917. Does anybody know want happened before or after those dates?

Any of my living relatives on Burra are likely to be descended from; 

Alexander Pottinger (1829 -1916) and Catherine Inkster (1836 -1919)

There may also be relatives in the Tyne and Wear area and in Vancouver. If you think you fit in -ask for a free online copy of my book. I intend to update entries on the Bayanne site but catching up with that may be helpful to you. Betty Stephens was my mother and I am the ‘living’ and just follow back from there. 


One reason for my Shetland family interest is musical. My dad was a multi-talented musician who played many instruments ( roots English/Welsh/Irish) but my love of Shetland music is so deep that there must have been some link there too. While carrying out both family and musical researches I have come across musicians Ruby Inkster and Thomas Fraser with Pottinger and Inkster ancestry similar to mine. I am also keen to find out more about the fiddler Willie Pottinger who had a Tommy Anderson tune named after him. I believe he too may have had a link with one of the Burra Isles. During the lock down I have been trying to play Shetland tunes on the fiddle inspired by the idea that my ancestor James Pottinger must have heard ( possibly even played) many of the tunes when he was ‘away in the Davis Straits’ in the early nineteenth century – not up to public performance yet. I was also advised recently that Jenny who recorded the ‘Taing’ on the fiddle is a fourth cousin. Small world!