So with no time to get anything painted tonight I thought I would tell you all a story. Are you Sitting comfortably? Well now I shall begin.
This story starts long ago on Shetland…January 1886 to be a bit more specific. It involves and ordinary lady called Betty Mouat.
Betty was 56 years old at the time and had recently had a stroke so needed to visit a doctor in Lerwick, sell some of her knitting and visit her sister. Although a 35 minute drive now, back in 1886 it was either walk the 25 miles or take 2-3 hours travelling by Sea. Betty chose the latter. She boarded the Columbine a sailing smack with a crew of three.
By all accounts she went below with her knitting as the weather was blowing up. A short while later as the boat pitched in a heavy sea she heard shouting from the Skipper and the sound of running feet. Shortly afterwards there was a shout, more commotion and the silence. Betty stayed below for a while and then struggled up the ladder to find that she was alone on the boat – of the crew there was no sign. Unbeknownst to her the Skipper had been washed overboard, the mate and crewman had immediately launched a small boat to rescue him. Sadly he was not found in time and drowned, when they tried to return to the Columbine they found her, still under sail, too far away to have any chance of catching her.
Betty however was now alone on a boat in a storm. The boat was being carried by the wind and with no crew was at the mercy of the waves. Betty survived by hanging onto a dangling rope. Sadly her ordeal was far from over. The constant motion of the boat meant that both hands were rubbed raw. As she boarded she had brought only a couple of penny biscuits and a jar of milk. She rationed herself to a sip of milk and half biscuit waiting in the bowels of the boat. She was unable to lie down and had to keep an eye out for flying furniture. On the fourth day her food ran out, but she had been able to get hold of the skipper’s jacket and use some twine to make loops to help her poor bleeding hands.
Her Journey carried on even after the food ran out, she slept fitfully dangling from her rope and was unable to lie down. Food for the crew was stored in the Forecastle but the ladder had fallen in the storm and she was now too weak to lift it into position.
Eventually she managed, with some difficulty, to wedge a box below the hatch and could peep out, she saw a strange coastline with Snow covered mountains, however the wind and current were taking her further away, stern first. The storm returned and Betty had to endure further battering. Eventually the boat crashed against rocks, but the stout timbers held as the storm crashed her into more and more jagged teeth.
Eventually to her relief the boat at last came to a halt.
Some local boys had been watching out for their own boats and saw the Columbine strike the rocks. Fishermen from the local village rushed to her aid. A rope was strung out and poor Betty had to travel the last few yards hand over hand. She was taken to a local village and nursed by the fishermen and their families. She didn’t understand a word they were saying, for unbeknownst to her, she was now in the village of Ronstad on the island of Lepsoy, Norway!
Betty had been at sea for eight nights and nine days.
As you can imagine, back on Shetland, all hope of finding her alive were gone. All believed that she had gone down with the boat. Most fishing boats were hauled up for the winter months and although a merchantman searched over 200 miles no trace was found.
You can no doubt imagine the amazement of all involved when a newspaper article appeared speaking of the miraculous rescue of one miss Elizabeth Mouat in Norway. Luckily and Englishman was running his cod liver oil trade not far away from Ronstad and he relayed the news.
After some rehabilitation Betty was returned the England landing in Hull . She rode on her ver first train trip to Edinburgh where loads of well wishers waited for her in droves. She stayed with a Shetland family for three weeks only to have all the well to do society ladies beating a track to her door to hear her tale.
Eventually she made it back to Shetland to find a letter of congratulations from Queen Victoria as well as a donation of £20 for her.
Queen Victoria also sent Silver medals to the Norwegian fishermen and the owner of the Columbine gave them the reward he had posted for any news of the missing boat.
Betty stayed on her Croft, accepting occasional tourist who wanted to hear her Tale. She passed away at the age of 93 on the 32nd anniversary of her last night on the Columbine.
She is laid to rest in Dunrossness Graveyard.
Her home is now a camping bod down near Sumburgh.
Hopefully you found it an interesting bed time story.