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Barbara Wilson's Story


Born Leogh, Fair Isle 1880-died Glasgow 1945


“ On one occasion several people wanted to get back to Lerwick; the steamer was wired for and the captain’s consent given.  By the time the steamer was sighted the sea had roughened considerably, but nothing daunted, the men decided to risk putting us on board.  We started, the small boat deeply laden with passengers and luggage.  Talk about a see-saw!  One minute the boat would be swung high on the crest of a wave, the next dumped down into the trough of the sea, where neither steamer nor isle could be seen, only green, glassy walls of water on either side that seemed ready to swamp us, then up again on the crest and so on.  Eventually we reached the steamer and the ascending ladder was thrown out and breath-taking gymnastics began.  It was a marvel of seamanship, our getting on to that steamer.  One had to wait till the yoal was on the crest of a wave, about equal with the steamer’s landing stage, and at the psychological moment, “leap for it”.  One woman was rather nervous and hesitated for a moment too long.  She just managed to catch hold of the steamer’s ladder as the yoal fell away, and was left hanging twixt steamer and yoal.  She was saved by the marvellous seamanship of the men in the yoal and the crew of the steamer.”


“I have also gone to Fair Isle on the Good Shepherd, the old Stromness lifeboat. When friends in Shetland heard of our project, a kind of half-amused, half-pitying look registered on their faces.  We soon discovered why, when we came on board.  First, we were tied to the hatches with ropes and then a canvas sheet was put over us to stop us from being saturated in salty water. When we got outside Sumburgh Head, the fun began.  That old boat was never two minutes in the same position.  She tossed and she tumbled, she rose and she fell and we swung hither and thither along with her.  One Fair Isle comedian said that she broke the backs of all the crabs between Sumburgh and Fair Isle.”

Barbara Wilson

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