William Sinclair Ritch’s Autobiography

I was born on the 29th day of July, 1852, in a two roomed cottage built by my father in the Village of Rackwick, in the Parish of Hoy. My father lived there all his life and his father before him, in the same house (Midhous to name) and had a small farm of ten acre of ground. My father’s name was Thomas Ritch and my mother’s name was Ann Sinclair. He worked his farm and went to the fishing and were Godly people and was highly respected by all the Village. My father was Elder of the Church of Scotland (the old Kirk) for a number of years.

My father was twice married. His first family, John and Charles, Andrew and Margaret and his second family was Barbra and James and Hugh, Isaac and William Sinclair. I was the youngest of all.

John followed the Sea and became a Captain and Andrew had a Cheif’s Mate certificate when lost at sea. Charles went to the United States of America and settled there and had a family of three sons. Hugh followed the Sea and was Chief Mate and was putting in

time for Captain when he was drowned in Dimarara [Demerara] River. My brother Isaac stayed home and worked on the farm with our father and became an Elder of the Church and a member of the school board and a member of the Parish Council.

Rackwick is a small Village with only thirty children going to school. The Island of Hoy is only five miles wide and fifteen miles long.

I worked on the farm with my father until I was sixteen years of age. I then went to the Herin fishing and at end of the second fishing I joined a Sloop going to the Baltic with a cargo of herring for Sateen in Germany and back to Leith with a cargo of grain and I stayed home all winter and the following year I sailed with Captain John Ritch, my half brother and in 1871 I made a voyage in the Hudson Bay Company’s ship Ladie Headgoing to moose factory in Hudson’s Bay and back to London, England, The following year I came to Moose

factory to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company (1872) and I was three years there. I was then transferred to Fort Albany on the Albany River and I worked as store keeper for ten years there and I got married to one Sophie Winne, the children’s mother and all my children was born there. Only John, he was born at Martens Falls. In l885 I went to Martens Falls where John was born, and was ten years there for the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was there where my wife was drowned along with another woman, while crossing the river above the head of a rapid in l888.

In 1895 I was sent on to Fort Hope where I was eight years. I then went down the Albany River to Albany and John with me. All the rest of my family got married at Fort Hope, only Isaac who was working along the line. Sinclair married at Fort Hope and Margaret Ann married John Goodwin and Willimina married at Moose factory to a man William Miller to name.

John and I travelled on to Charlton Island and thence to Moose factory and back to Albany where we both stayed until the Spring when we went to Moose factory by dog team, in March, 1904, and we both stayed there until navigation opened when we travelled by boat

to Abitibi for the Hudson’s Bay Company, where I stayed six years for the great company.

John got married for two years or so and had one baby, but there was an epidemic of measles going around and John’s wife and baby died from it. Shortly after John went to Fort Hope in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s employ at that post. I stayed on at Abitibi until

February of 1910 when I travelled out to North Bay by dog team part of the way and by horse team another part, and finally by rail, and remained there until the first of June when I went back to Abitibi.

I did not keep my health and decided to retire from the Hudson’s Bay Company service after serving them for thirty-eight years. In the meantime, John at Fort Hope had married.

Well I decided to retire to Orkney and spend the remainder of my days there in my native country, so I left Abitibi and went out once more to North Bay, but this time I say good-bye to the great company. I stayed in North Bay the most part of the month, waiting for

permission from the Commissioner’s office in Winnipeg to retire and when it did come, I left North bay by train for Montreal. I then took the steam boat Ionia for Glasgow and had a fine passage across and arrived in Greenock Sunday morning, the 3rd day of September, 1910.

I was one day in Glasgow and then left by train for Thurso where I arrived that same day and made connection with the boat that crosses the Pentland Firth and arrived in Stromness the same day that I left Glasgow. I was now in Orkney which I had left thirty-eight years ago.

There was a good lot of changes since I went away from Orkney. I went across to the Island of Hoy and two of my brothers and one sister are still living in the Village of Rackwick so I went over to see them, and I did not know my brother when I met him. I lived with my brother Isaac in Rackwick for four years. My brother James and Barbra lived in my father’s house, but died soon after I came back. When my brother James and Barbra died, I took over the house and married a wife by the name of Mima Nicolson, now Mrs. W. S. Ritch. I lived there from 1915 until 1923 and worked the farm while we were there as I wished to have my father ‘s house for a time.

We then left and came to Orgil Cottage in the Village of Hoy. In the meantime, I received in 1920 from the Hudson’s Bay Company, a gold medal and bar with an expression of gratitude for and appreciation of loyal service. The letter accompanying the gold medal says in part – “On behalf of the Governor and Committee in London, I am to convey to you the Company’s best wishes and its appreciation of the valued and faithful service you have rendered the Company.”

We went down to the Village of Hoy in 1923 and are still living here. My brother Isaac died in 1930, and now I pray that God will bless all my dear children.

William S. Ritch

January 10, 1931.