John Gow

We probably have Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, to thank for providing the earliest account of the activities of John Gow. Defoe specialised in the accounts of criminals. His account of John Gow appeared in 1725, the year of Gow's execution, under the rather extended title of "An Account of the Conduct and Proceedings of the Late John Gow, alias Smith, Captain of the Late Pirates, Executed for Murther and Piracy, Committed on Board the George Galley, Afterwards Call'd the Revenge; with a Revalation of All the Horrid Murthers They Committed in Cold Blood: as Also of Their Being Taken at the Islands of Orkney, and Sent Up Prisoners to London."

Sir Walter Scott heard the story of Gow when visiting Orkney in 1814 and this became the basis of his book, "The Pirate", which was published in December 1821. This was a novel based on an idea, which he heard from Bessie Millie, a spey wife in Stromness who used to sell good winds to sailors. In the book, the pirate is cast ashore in Shetland after loosing his ship in the south of that county and not on the Calf of Eday, in Orkney. The account of what happened in Shetland is entirely fictitious.

Allan Fea picked this up in 1912 with his book "The Real Captain Cleveland" which attempted to tell the true story of John Gow and also to give a history of the branches of the Fea family descended from James Fea I of Clestrain, who obtained the feu of Clestrain in Stronsay in 1591. The title came from Sir Walter Scott's book where the John Gow character was given the name "Captain Cleveland."

Gow spent his early days in Caithness, although his family moved to Stromness in Orkney. Like many, he went to sea but had ambitions and turned to the life of a pirate

The return to Orkney of Gow was to cause great consternation in the community. He sailed to Eday to see James Fea VI of Clestrain and the ship went ashore on the Calf of Eday. James Fea was at Carrick in Calfsound at the time and was instrumental in his capture

Gow was taken to London where he was executed for piracy, later that year. James Fea VI of Clestrain fought long for compensation and became involved is a series of legal claims arising out of the incident.