by Christine Wright

Martha Fea Portrait (see note below) The life of a woman anywhere in the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century often involved long periods of widowhood as well as the emigration of family members.  Thus, sad as it may seem to us, Martha Fea’s life was probably no different from that of many others, as these experiences touched women of every class and creed.  After Martha’s husband died, she lived for another 47 years in the company of her eldest daughter.  Of her six children, only three outlived her and two of those were sons who went to Australia, where they both married and had families.  Martha had no grand-children in Shetland or Scotland, and the sixteen children of her two sons in Australia were her only grand-children.   She did not have the joy of knowing these grand-children, as she did not come to Australia nor did any of the family return to their homeland during her life-time.

Martha was born in Hull in 1802 and came to Shetland with her parents, Thomas Fea who was Collector of Customs in Lerwick and his wife Jane Green, both of whom died in Lerwick.  Thomas Fea was a descendant of the Orkney family of Fea of Clestrain who had migrated to Shetland and had become Fea of Clivocast1.   This Fea family went to Shetland, sometime between 1806 when Robert, Martha’s youngest brother, was born in Hull and 1815 when her sister, Jane Green Fea, married William Spence in Lerwick.

In 1825 Martha married Charles Ogilvy, son of Charles Ogilvy and Barbara Ross.  They had six children:  Charles Seafield Ogilvy 1826, Jane Fea Ogilvy 1828, Thomas 1830 who died young, John Ogilvy 1832, William Hay Ogilvy 1833 and Magnus Fea Ogilvy 1835.  Her husband was Chief Magistrate of Lerwick, the Danish Consul, a partner in Hay and Ogilvy and a partner in the Shetland Bank.   Christian Ployen, in his reminiscences of a voyage to Shetland, Orkney and Scotland in 1839, has given us a glimpse of the life of the Ogilvys and the houses of other gentlemen in Lerwick.  Ployen stayed at Seafield, the home of the Ogilvys near Lerwick and he  described the house as  full of comforts and luxuries, indeed ‘everything made me feel that I had come to the land of opulence’ 2.   Ployen, comparing Shetland with his native Faroe,  saw many contrasts.

This wealthy life for the Ogilvy family came to an abrupt end with the bankruptcy of Hay and Ogilvy and the collapse of the Shetland Bank in 1842.  Charles, Martha and their children moved to Edinburgh where Charles died in 1844.  Sad he died so young, and the fact that there is no grave in Warriston cemetery in Edinburgh with the rest of his family, or in Shetland, leads me to suspect that he may have committed suicide.  Edinburgh newspapers record only the date of his death and I have been unable to locate a will in either Edinburgh or Shetland.   So, for the remaining 47 years of her life, Martha was a widow, although she did enjoy the company of her favourite sister, Philethia, for some time in Edinburgh before she too died in 1852. While living in Edinburgh she saw two sons die:  Magnus in 1871 and William in 1886;  and two sons emigrate to Victoria:  John in 1852 and Charles in 1855.  Magnus died unmarried and while William married, he had no children.  Unfortunately for her, Martha’s only descendants were in Australia.   In 1902 in Australia, Martha’s son, Charles, fondly wrote of his maternal grandfather, Thomas Fea as he remembered him in the year 1840 ‘he was then 73 years of age, 6 feet in height, broad of chest, portly, straight in figure, blue eyed, high complexion, clear of face and clear of skin – a genuine Norseman – a very striking figure of a strong masterful man.  I have never seen his like since’ 3.

Martha spent her remaining years in the company of her only daughter, Jane, known as Jean.  On Jean’s death in 1926, Francis Steuart wrote an appreciation of her life in an Edinburgh newspaper and noted what a pair these two ladies were.  One never went to the house, he remarked, unless one expected wit4.     This tradition, and what Steuart termed ‘the family salon’, was continued by Jean after Martha’s death in 1891.  Martha is buried with other family members in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh.

1.  An Appreciation for Miss Jean Ogilvy on her death,  cutting from Edinburgh newspaper (not named) March 1926  by Francis Steuart.
2.  C. Ployen, Reminiscences of a Voyage to Shetland, Orkney and Scotland, second edition, translated from the Danish by Catherine Spence, Lerwick, 1896.
3.  Note written by Charles Ogilvy 6 May 1902.
4.  An Appreciation for Miss Jean Ogilvy, March 1926 (see above)

© Christine Wright (nee Ogilvy)

Used with permission

The portrait of Martha Fea, above, painted when she was young, is well travelled.  It was painted in Shetland, and travelled first to Edinburgh, then to Australia before returning to the northern hemisphere.  .