The spirit of adventure ran high in his blood

Obituary for William Sinclair Ritch The Orcadian March 24 1932

Hoy had links with the story of the early pioneering days out on Hudsons Bay. With the passing away at his home, Orgil Cottage, there has been removed, states the Hoy correspondent of The Orcadian, one of the oldest and most highly respected members of that community, in the person of William Sinclair Ritch.

Born 79 years ago, at Midhouse, Rackwick, he spent his early boyhood there. There, too, he received his early education, under the late James Young – an education which, despite its thoroughness, did not attain to the high standard of efficiency achieved today. Nevertheless, he secured all the rudiments of knowledge which carried him to higher spheres of life.

At Rackwick, too, he practised the art of seamanship – something which had been born with him. As soon as he left school, he carried that learning further by joining a local herring boat, owned in Rackwick, as a boy. The life around him proved too tame, however. The spirit of adventure ran high in his blood and, like many other young men of his day and generation, he decided to seek pastures new in the far-flung ramparts of the Empire.

Ere reaching the age of seventeen, he signed on at Stromness as a deckhand on the then well-known sailing ship, The Lady Head, a unit of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Soon afterwards he began an eventual voyage to ‘The Bay’ as it was then familiarly known. For two years he served on that first vessel of his deep-sea career, and then he decided to take up shore duty at the then outlandish ports, where dog-sleighs and toboggans were the only means of transport, but where today’s airplanes land all the stores when the waters are closed to shipping.

There he rose to a position of trust in the company’s service. There, too, he married and saw his family of three sons and two daughters grow up. In and out among the ports at which he was stationed, he spent 38 long years, eventually- his wife having died – deciding to retire from the Company’s service and retraced his wandering footsteps to the shores of the far-off Orkney, his native land.

Returning to the place of his birth, he took up residence and found in Rackwick much to compensate him for the many years he had been absent. There he married Miss Jemima Nicholson and afterwards removed to Orgil Cottage, in which he resided for eight years – the closing session of a varied life.

Mr Ritch was the possessor of a wide knowledge of most subjects and could talk interestingly, his reminiscences always being full of enthralling matter. Particularly graphic were his stories of life amid the snows of the bleak Nor’ Wast. Mr Ritch was an ardent Freemason, being a mark master of Lodge Mercantile Marine, No.453, Stromness. He held the Hudson’s bay gold medal and bar for long service, and held also a testimonial indicative of their appreciation of his untiring devotion to his work.

His passing brings to a close another chapter in the long story of Orkney’s part in the great task of colonising the outposts of the Empire. He was one of the stalwarts of the stalwart pioneers, facing hardship, danger, even death itself, without flinching. His passing leaves a blank in the community of Hoy that will never be filled. The sympathy of the islanders will go out to the widow at home and the family beyond the seas, who mourn a loving husband and a kind and generous father.

The funeral, which took place to Hoy new churchyard on Wednesday was largely attended, people travelling from all over the island. The wreaths included one from Lodge Mercantile Marine No. 453. The officiating minister was Rev. James D. Anderson, Hoy, and the pall-bearers were Messrs. Sinclair and James Nicholson, Andrew Bremner, Isaac Moar, Thomas Ritch and Eric Wick.

At Hoy Church Mr Anderson paid fitting tribute to the deceased. Preaching from Luke xxiv, 5 and 6, Mr Anderson called to memory incidents in the life of Mr Ritch, who, he said, had written his name on the pages of history. His work on behalf of the Master was admirable. For 22 years Mr Ritch had taken a deep interest in the congregation. The life he lived was an exemplary one. He was the last link in a family chain that had been most important to the Master. His passing bore away the last of the pioneers who belonged to their little island of Hoy.