Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Eskimo Invasion of Scotland and the Scottish Invasion of Eskimoland

Ocean-going invasion vessel

On the rare occasions when Scotland has been invaded, the invasion has usually come from the populous South or the Viking East. The country has almost never been invaded from the North. This is because there is not much in the way of human life beyond Scotland. Nevertheless such rare incursions have happened, featuring Eskimos, who are not only ethnically different, but from an entirely different racial group. By the way, in this essay I will be using the term" Eskimo" as it more pleasingly euphonious than the tediously politically correct term "Inuit" that is now routinely enforced throughout academia and the media.

Given the size of these incursions—usually one man in a canoe—"invasion" is probably the wrong word to use. But it is still remarkable that Scotland has been "visited" by such alien people, coming there through their own agency in pre-modern times and effectively covering a distance of over 2,500 miles to do so.

There is a particularly good account from the 1680s, a date right in the middle of the Little Ice Age,  a cold spell which lasted from 1645 to 1715 and struck Scotland particularly badly, with average temperatures dropping by 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius. This caused crop failures and extreme poverty. The coldness also led to an expansion in the area of sea ice to the North and brought the ice-hunting culture of the Eskimos within range of Scotland. The account of this Eskimo encounter was written by James Wallace, a church minister in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. Stuck for the correct term, he simply called the "invaders" Finnmen, although it is clear that they must have been Eskimos from Greenland
"Sometime about this Country are seen these Men which are called Finnmen; In the year 1682, one was seen sometime sailing, sometime Rowing up and down in his little Boat at the south end of the isle of Eda[y], most of the people of the Isle flocked to see him, and when they adventured to put out a boat with men to see if they could apprehend him, he presently sped away most swiftly: And in the Year 1684, another was seen from Westra[y], and for a while after they got a few or no Fishes: for they have this Remark here, that these Finnmen drive away the fishes from the place to which they come. These Finnmen seem to be some of these people that dwell about the Fretum Davis [i.e., the Davis Strait], a full account of whom may be seen in the natural & moral History of the Antilles [by Rochefort], Chap. 18. One of their Boats sent from Orkney to Edinburgh is to be seen in the Physicians hall with the Oar and the Dart he makes use of for killing Fish.’ (A Description of Orkney (1693), p. 34.)
When the Rev Francis Gastrell visited Aberdeen in 1760, he referred to another Eskimo incursion, this time on the East coast of Scotland, near Aberdeen, one of Scotland's major cities, that sits on the River Don:
"A canoe about seven yards long by two feet wide, which about thirty-two years since was driven into the Don with a man in it who was all over hairy, and spoke a language which no person there could interpret. He lived but three days, although all possible care was taken to recover him."
A writer named Douglas referred to the same incident in a 1782 book, calling the Eskimo an "Indian":
"A canoe, taken at sea with an Indian man in it, about the beginning of this century. He was brought alive to Aberdeen, but died soon after his arrival, and could give no account of himself. He is supposed to have come from the Labrador Coast, and to have lost his way at sea. The canoe is covered with fish skins, curiously stretched upon slight timbers, very securely joined together. The upper part of it is about twenty inches broad at the centre, and runs off gradually to a point at both ends. Where broadest, there is a circular hole, just large enough for the man to fit in, round which there is a kind of girth, about a foot high, to which he fixed himself, probably, when he did not use his oar, or paddle; which when he chose it, he stuck into some lists of skin, tied around the canoe, but slack enough, to let in the padle, and some other awkward utensils which were found stuck there. The canoe is about eighteen feet long, and slopes on both sides, but the bottom is flat for three or four inches in the middle and gradually sharpens as it approaches the extremities till it ends in a point."
John Brand's A brief description of Orkney, Zetland, Pightland Firth, and Caithness (1808 printing) also mentions the Eskimos in Scotland:
"There are frequently Finmen seen here have on the Coasts, as one about a year ago on Stronsa, and another within these few months on Westra, a Gentleman with many others in the Isle looking on him now to the shore, but when they endeavor to apprehend them, they flee away most swiftly; which is very strange, that one Man sitting in his little Boat, should come some hundreds of leagues from their own Coasts, as they reckon Finland to be from Orkney; it may be thought wonderful how they live all that time, and are able to keep the sea so long. His boat is made of Seal skins, or some kind of leather, he also has a coat of Leather upon him, and he fitteth in the middle of his Boat, With a little Oar in his hand, Fishing with his lines: And when in a storm he sees the high surge of a wave approaching, he hath a way of Sinking his Boat, till the wave pass over, least thereby he should be overturned. The Fishers here observe that these Finland or Finland-Men. by they're coming drive away the Fishes from the Coasts. One of their Boats is kept as a Rarity in the Physians Hall at Edinburgh."
So much for the Eskimos visiting Scotland. What about the other way around? With the development of the long-range Scottish whaling industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, Scottish sailors had a reason to return the visits of the Eskimos,. The first Arctic whaling voyage left the whaling town of Dundee, nicknamed "Blubbertown" in 1753.

While the rewards for the whale oil and baleen, a kind of springy whale bone ideal for women's corsets, were high, the dangers were extreme. Around one ship was lost for every 17 trips, according to Norman Watson's book, The Dundee Whalers.

The voyages also brought the Scottish whalers into contact with the Eskimos and the two groups seemed to get on reasonably well, according to Watson, with Eskimos being employed to do menial tasks at some of the Greenland whaling stations operated by the Scots.

Having no use for money, they were typically paid in barter goods, and in this way started to pick up the habits and sometimes the vices of the sailors, being particularly fond of tobacco, which they chewed and taught their children to chew. Watson also mentions that they incorporated steps from Scottish reels into their native dances.

Scottish food was also a great favourite, with the Eskimos developing a fondness for porridge and mince & tatties, and an obsession for Keiller's orange marmalade. Occasionally some Eskimos would be brought back to Scotland for the Winter months, returning to their native land in the Summer. The Eskimos were considered a great curiosity and many people in Dundee came to see them exhibited. One of them, by the name of Shoodlue, was particularly well known for his love of marmalade, and was hailed by the townspeople as the "Champion Marmalade Eater of All Time" (People's Journal 1925) for his gastronomic prowess.

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