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Introduction / William Gray and Mary Robertson

John Gray and May Keldie

John Gray was the youngest child of William Gray and Mary Robertson, and was born on the island of Papa Westray on 10th August 1845. He was christened in the parish of Westray and Papa Westray on 25th October 1846.

John was included in his parents' household in the censuses of 1851 and 1861. His occupation in the latter was "General work", and his age was given as 16 years old, although he wasn't actually 16 until a few months later. He married Marjory Bews "May" Keldie (born in 1839, daughter of William Keldie and Barbara Pottinger) on 9th June 1864, and they had eight children

The children of John Gray and May Keldie (all born on Papa Westray) were:

  • Barbara Bews Gray, born 9th August 1864. She died at the age of 24 years, on 23rd November 1888, and is buried in St. Boniface churchyard, Papa Westray.
  • Twins Mary and Margaret Gray were born 9th January 1868. No record, other than the record of her birth, has been found for Margaret. Mary married John Gilchrist and had several children.
  • William Gray, born 16th September 1870. He married Georgina Rendall and had four children.
  • John Gray was born 9th February 1873. He married Margaret Harcus and had three sons.
  • Isabella Gray was born 11th March 1876, and married Thomas Telford.
  • David Gray, born 8th October 1880. He married Elizabeth Yorston, but didn't have any children.
  • May Gray was born 31st October 1884. She married Timothy Harcus and had three daughters.

By the census of 1871 John had taken over the Keldie farm, Vola (also called Claybraes). The following extract from the 1871 census shows his household at that time:

Vola, Papa Westray
Relation Age Occupation Born
John Gray Head 26 years Farmer of 11 acres Papa Westray
May Gray Wife 31 years Papa Westray
Barbara Gray Daughter 6 years Papa Westray
Mary Gray Daughter 3 years Papa Westray
William Gray Son 6 months Papa Westray
Barbara Keldie Mother in Law 61 years Papa Westray

Like his brother David and many of their neighbours, John appeared before the Crofters Commission when it visited Westray in 1888, resulting in a significant reduction in his rent.

John Gray, Claybraes, said his croft extended to 11 acres arable, and less than an acre of outrun. His rent was 7 pounds 10s and there were 8 pounds 1s 4d arrears at Whitsunday. He had been in the place for 21 years, and had made some improvements with the assistance of the proprietor. In 1876 the rent was raised from 6 pounds 10s to 7 pounds 10s without any addition being made to the croft.

Cross examined: He had not been in arrears at the date of the passing of the Act. Q. - You were bound to work at kelp when you took the place? A. - Just as little and as muckle as I "licket" (laughter). Q. - You were a farm servant at Holland before you got the croft? A. - And what did I get for it? Just 4 pounds and a chappin of milk (laughter).

Decision: The rent was reduced from 7 pounds 10s to 4 pounds 6s. Of the 8 pounds 1s 4d arrears, 6 pounds 1s 4d was cancelled, and the balance of 2 pounds ordered to be paid in one instalment.

The Orkney Crofters - Their Evidence And Statements By Agents As Given Before The Crofter's Commission 1888, Ed. W R Mackintosh, page 181

John and May remained at Vola/Claybraes for the rest of their lives. John died on the 8th November 1915, and May died little more than a year later, on 10th January 1917. They are buried in St. Boniface churchyard, Papa Westray.

Erected By John & Mary Gray
In Memory Of Their Beloved Daughter
Who Died 23rd Novr 1888
Aged 24 Years 4 Months and 15 Days
Also Her Father, John Gray
Who Died 8th Novr 1915, Aged 70 Years
And His Beloved Wife
May Keldie
Who Died 10th Jan 1917, Aged 77 Years

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