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Introduction / The Island


The population of Pharay probably reached its highest between 1871 and 1881. The changes during sixty years of the 19th century can be followed by the census records.

Year No of Inhabitants No of Households


1851 69 14
1861 82 17
1871 83 18
1881 72 13
1891 58   9
1901 47   8

There was a small increase around 1920 but the population continued to decline thereafter until the last of the inhabitants left in 1947. The number of households exceeds the eight houses in 1901 that are usually recognised, as there were sometimes two or three households at the one croft.

Population statistics can be derived from the censuses and some interpretation made. It should be emphasised that like all statistics, they carry a health warning for the unwary reader, who should be aware of the limitations of the information and the small statistical size of the population.

Pharay was a small relatively self-contained island with the greater part of the population being born on the island. Analysis by place of birth can be carried out from 1851. Unfortunately the 1841 census merely indicates this to be Orkney rather than giving the parish.

Until about 1891, around three quarters of the population were born on the island. Westray was the main outside influence and to a lesser extent Eday. After this time, there were an increasing number of people from outside the island and this gathered momentum in the 20th century with long established native families leaving.

Analysis by surname shows the Drever surname being the most common during this period although the other long established names of Groat, Harcus, Drummond and Burgar are prevalent as expected. It also reflects changes as the 19th century drew to a close with the number of people with the Drummond surname falling and other names such as Seatter and Reid coming from Westray.

The age profile of the population indicates throughout this period a large number of pre-school and school age children and no large elderly population. While this remained relatively constant throughout the sixty years to 1901, the actual fall in the population as a whole was to have significant consequences for the island.

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