The Finnmen — Inuits In Early-Modern Scotland

James_H

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Something fascinating that's never been on my radar before now.

In 1682, a man in a "little boat" (presumed to be a kayak) was sighted off Eday in Orkney. Locals pursued him and he left the scene at speed. Two years later in 1684, another was sighted at Westray. Later a kayak was captured and sent to Edinburgh and sent to the Physicians Hall*. There's another one in Aberdeen (I wonder they're still there? @gordonrutter do you know?)

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, 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 fled away most swiftly: And in the year 1684, another was seen from Westra, and for a while after they got 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 [Davis Straits].… One of their Boats sent from Orkney to Edinburgh is to be seen in the Physitians hall, with the Oar and the Dart he makes use of for killing Fish’.
(Rev. James Wallace, Minister of Kirkwall, Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1688)

They were taken at the time to be Finnish people, hence the name, though since then have been recognised as Inuits from Canada (another Orkney-Canada connection).

Another book says they were a regular sight around this time.:

There are frequently Finmen seen here upon 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 nigh to the shore, but when any endeavour to apprehend them, they flee away most swiftly; which is very strange, that one man, sitting in his little boat, should come some hundred 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 hath a coat of leather upon him, and he sitteth 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 Finmen or Finland-men by their coming drive away the fishes from the coasts. One of their boats is kept as a rarity in the Physicians Hall in Edinburgh.
(John Brand, A Brief Description of Orkney: Zetland, Pightland-Firth & Caithness, 1701)

So how did they get there?

It seems unlikely that they'd be able to make it all the way from Canada to Scotland by kayak, as the distance is over 2000 miles and although they had fishing equipment, they wouldn't have been able to access fresh water for several weeks. However, of course, they may have made the journey piecemeal, stopping off at places like Greenland, Iceland and Faeroe along the way.

Wikipedia says the 'most likely' explanation is that they were escaped prisoners, the kidnapping of Inuit people for exhibition as curiosities being apparently common at the time. This raises a big question for me: where did they get their kayaks from?

Rev. James Wallace's son reckoned they'd been blown across the sea to Scotland by storms.

This Scotsman article gives the somewhat farfetched suggestion that there was actually a colony of Inuit living in Orkney since the Little Ice Age, when the sea around Greenland was unfishably icy, prompting relocation: https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/was-orkney-home-inuit-settlement-860263

Wikipedia also draws a connection between these events and the Orkney legends of the selkie and finfolk, supernatural marauders from the underwater fairyland of Finfolkaheem.

* The kayak in question is mentioned in this 1912 article, but I don't have access: could anyone with access to jstor take a look? https://www.jstor.org/stable/2843199

Another article I can't access: https://www.cambridge.org/core/jour...-the-finnmen/586208B2DE5E7CE70FA0C6F56F95332F
 

James_H

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Maybe from the Faroes?
To come all the way from Canada intentionally seems highly unlikely.
It seems like a couple of guys did recently kayak from Greenland to Scotland, inspired by a book about the Finnmen: https://www.sidetracked.com/fieldjournal/the-wake-of-the-finnmen/

They did it by travelling between landmasses, including Faroe.

Polynesian people of course travelled much greater distances in outrigger canoes, but I think a kayak would be even more challenging, especially in the North Atlantic.
 

Mythopoeika

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It seems like a couple of guys did recently kayak from Greenland to Scotland, inspired by a book about the Finnmen: https://www.sidetracked.com/fieldjournal/the-wake-of-the-finnmen/

They did it by travelling between landmasses, including Faroe.

Polynesian people of course travelled much greater distances in outrigger canoes, but I think a kayak would be even more challenging, especially in the North Atlantic.
That would be a journey of epic proportions in a kayak.
It is conceivable that even in the 17th century, some explorers may have found a way to desalinate sea water or extract moisture from the air.
 

maximus otter

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a) …in 1684, another was sighted at Westray. Later a kayak was captured and sent to Edinburgh and sent to the Physicians Hall*.

b) This raises a big question for me: where did they get their kayaks from?

a) The Old Physicians’ Hall in Edinburgh wasn’t begun until 1776. That doesn’t rule this out, but l wonder where the kayak was kept for - eighty? - years.

b) l would imagine that an lnuit, captured as an adult, would know how to build his own kayak using readily-available tools and materials.

We have another thread about fur-clad people being found off the coast of Ireland (?), and a vague, ambiguous Latin description of their vessel, but l’m buggered if l can find it. I’ve tried searching under selkie, Latin, kayak etc.

maximus otter
 

maximus otter

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Something fascinating that's never been on my radar before now.

In 1682, a man in a "little boat" (presumed to be a kayak) was sighted off Eday in Orkney. Locals pursued him and he left the scene at speed. Two years later in 1684, another was sighted at Westray. Later a kayak was captured and sent to Edinburgh and sent to the Physicians Hall*. There's another one in Aberdeen (I wonder they're still there? @gordonrutter do you know?)


(Rev. James Wallace, Minister of Kirkwall, Description of the Isles of Orkney, 1688)

They were taken at the time to be Finnish people, hence the name, though since then have been recognised as Inuits from Canada (another Orkney-Canada connection).

Another book says they were a regular sight around this time.:


(John Brand, A Brief Description of Orkney: Zetland, Pightland-Firth & Caithness, 1701)

So how did they get there?

It seems unlikely that they'd be able to make it all the way from Canada to Scotland by kayak, as the distance is over 2000 miles and although they had fishing equipment, they wouldn't have been able to access fresh water for several weeks. However, of course, they may have made the journey piecemeal, stopping off at places like Greenland, Iceland and Faeroe along the way.

Wikipedia says the 'most likely' explanation is that they were escaped prisoners, the kidnapping of Inuit people for exhibition as curiosities being apparently common at the time. This raises a big question for me: where did they get their kayaks from?

Rev. James Wallace's son reckoned they'd been blown across the sea to Scotland by storms.

This Scotsman article gives the somewhat farfetched suggestion that there was actually a colony of Inuit living in Orkney since the Little Ice Age, when the sea around Greenland was unfishably icy, prompting relocation: https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/was-orkney-home-inuit-settlement-860263

Wikipedia also draws a connection between these events and the Orkney legends of the selkie and finfolk, supernatural marauders from the underwater fairyland of Finfolkaheem.

* The kayak in question is mentioned in this 1912 article, but I don't have access: could anyone with access to jstor take a look? https://www.jstor.org/stable/2843199

Another article I can't access: https://www.cambridge.org/core/jour...-the-finnmen/586208B2DE5E7CE70FA0C6F56F95332F

An article of interest:

edit-scottishgeograph28scotuoft_0156.jpg


Images from David MacRitchie's 1912 article “Kayaks of the North Sea” of the so-called “Aberdeen Kayak”. It was supposedly captured off the east Scottish coast “with an Indian man in it” at the beginning of the 18th century, however, actual evidence of the event and the kayak's origins is scant to say the least

https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/the-orkney-finnmen-legends

maximus otter
 

eburacum

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Le's explore the possibility that the identification as 'Finnmen' is correct. There were significant numbers of Sami who made their livelihood from the sea, but I can't find any details offhand about the sort of boats they used in the 15th century. Here's a Victorian Sami fishing boat which appears quite conventional, and seems to be descended from the Viking boats used in earlier ages. Not really a kayak.

Picture%2B1.png
 

Sid

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Le's explore the possibility that the identification as 'Finnmen' is correct. There were significant numbers of Sami who made their livelihood from the sea, but I can't find any details offhand about the sort of boats they used in the 15th century. Here's a Victorian Sami fishing boat which appears quite conventional, and seems to be descended from the Viking boats used in earlier ages. Not really a kayak.

Picture%2B1.png
This might be of some interest in the 'Finnmen' 'eburacam/maximus otter.'
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/...es_frembden_unbekanten_Volcks_-_000003625.jpg
 

eburacum

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I think those were Inuit kayaks,rather than Finnish boats.

The article it came from is about Martin Frobisher, who went to Greenland on that voyage. Note as well that Lief Erickson and other Viking explorers were in contact with Inuit from 1000 c.e. onwards, who they called 'skraelings'.
 

Sid

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I think those were Inuit kayaks,rather than Finnish boats.

The article it came from is about Martin Frobisher, who went to Greenland on that voyage. Note as well that Lief Erickson and other Viking explorers were in contact with Inuit from 1000 c.e. onwards, who they called 'skraelings'.
Well, they certainly do appear to be as shallow ~ with the same overall shape 'eburacum.' I am led to believe the Kayak's are supposed to have been held in Edinburgh University - but that info might be a bit iffy?
 
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eburacum

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Well, it is not impossible that some enterprising Scandinavians may have brought kayak technology over to Europe some time around 1480. Scandinavians have a long history of copying and using indigenous technology within the arctic (and antarctic) circles, as Amundsen and Nansen demonstrated. Whether this use went right back to the 1480s is another matter.
 

Bullseye

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I'm sure everyone knows the Norse settled in Greenland from 1000AD to1500AD during a warm period (who was burning vast amounts of fossil fuels then?) until the cold returned. So they knew about the skraelinga, wether there was trade or conflict who knows. But they were farmers by then so more likely to trade for goods. The Inuit must have known that the Norse came from the East, therefore it could be sailed (or paddled). IIRC During the latter part of the Greenland colony, a few adventuresome fisherman from Bristol used to visit the Greenlanders and fish these waters and it would seem the Grand Banks were known to them as well. Sure Farley Mowats (dead now) books have info on these subjects, can't remember which of his books I have or where they are !. I believe there was more communication between all parties than is realised.
 

Sid

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I'm sure everyone knows the Norse settled in Greenland from 1000AD to1500AD during a warm period (who was burning vast amounts of fossil fuels then?) until the cold returned. So they knew about the skraelinga, wether there was trade or conflict who knows. But they were farmers by then so more likely to trade for goods. The Inuit must have known that the Norse came from the East, therefore it could be sailed (or paddled). IIRC During the latter part of the Greenland colony, a few adventuresome fisherman from Bristol used to visit the Greenlanders and fish these waters and it would seem the Grand Banks were known to them as well. Sure Farley Mowats (dead now) books have info on these subjects, can't remember which of his books I have or where they are !. I believe there was more communication between all parties than is realised.

The Farfarers?

 

EnolaGaia

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Kayaks weren't historically limited to the Western Hemisphere. The Yupik people of northern / northeastern Siberia were known to use kayaks like those of the Inuit.

Also bear in mind that there were expeditions dedicated to seeking a Northeast Passage as well as the better-known Northwest Passage.

It would be interesting to know how far westward from Siberia the use of kayaks (or closely similar craft) might have been, as well as whether any of the eastward Arctic expeditions encountered indigenous people using kayaks.

There's also the possibility that an Inuit kayak had been brought back from one of the 15th / 16th century expeditions. It's also conceivable the 18th century specimen was a local (European) reproduction of something known from Arctic expeditions elsewhere.
 

Fluttermoth

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It's not 100% the same topic, but Tim Severin's book The Brendan Voyage might contain some relevant info. It's been a few years since I read it, but it is about sailing the North Atlantic with pre-medieval technology.
 

Kondoru

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Yes, the Vikings in Greenland were interested in a certain aspect of Skraeling technology...I think you can guess what.

(I think this interest is mentioned in the `Kings Mirror`)

(Or H C Petersens `Skinboats of Greenland`; Though I think there are more up to date studies of this matter now)

The book on the Finmen is `Seal folk and ocean paddlers`, by a guy called McAulay (I think)

Has any genetic studies been done of Shetland and Orkney folk?
 

ramonmercado

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Yes, the Vikings in Greenland were interested in a certain aspect of Skraeling technology...I think you can guess what.

(I think this interest is mentioned in the `Kings Mirror`)

(Or H C Petersens `Skinboats of Greenland`; Though I think there are more up to date studies of this matter now)

The book on the Finmen is `Seal folk and ocean paddlers`, by a guy called McAulay (I think)

Has any genetic studies been done of Shetland and Orkney folk?

SHETLANDERS have overwhelmingly Scottish DNA according to a major research project; one of whose contributors is well-known Orkney geneticist Professor Jim Wilson.

While Shetland is famed for its Viking ancestry, the Edinburgh University research project shows that only 20 per cent of isles DNA is traceable to Norwegian ancestors.

It also shows how much the present day genetic makeup of Scotland owes to Dark Age populations, with surprisingly little shift since then.

Orkney and Shetland are nonetheless the most genetically distinct populations in the whole of Britain and Ireland, but are each other’s closest relatives.

The focus on the Northern Isles used data from individuals from the ORCADES and VIKING studies, previously conducted in Orkney and Shetland respectively.

Wilson said: “In both archipelagos it is incredible how clearly we can tell people apart using their DNA alone, in many cases right down to the level of the isle or parish.”

Within Shetland, Whalsay is the most distinct genetic locality, but differences can be found between the North Isles, North Mainland, West Side, central Shetland and Dunrossness, which is closely linked to Burra and Fair Isle, while there is a grouping between the West and North Mainland.

Shetland is not uniform in the amount of Norse DNA detected. Yell and the West Side are highest at 28 per cent, with Fair Isle and the Central Mainland only 12 per cent.

Orkney is the next most Viking area of the UK, with 18 per cent Norse ancestry, followed by the Western Isles, with nine per cent.

https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2019/09/03/latest-study-shows-shetlanders-are-genetically-more-scottish/
 

Kondoru

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Can we tell a Saami from a Norse?
 

Lb8535

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The population of Greenland (al 57,000 today) is almost exclusively Inuit, I assume this has been true as long as those living in Canada were able to hunt paddling east. Greenland to Iceland, then Iceland to Scotland is not so impossible-sounding for someone looking for adventure given the right currents.
 

maximus otter

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We have another thread about fur-clad people being found off the coast of Ireland (?), and a vague, ambiguous Latin description of their vessel, but l’m buggered if l can find it. I’ve tried searching under selkie, Latin, kayak etc.

Finally found the bugger! @Kingsize Wombat posted the following:

"One of the most dramatic pieces of evidence for a pre-Columbian crossing of the Atlantic is to be found in a single Latin marginalia, that is some words scribbled into the margin of a book. The sentence in question appears in a copy of the Historia rerum ubique gestarum by Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini which was published in Venice in 1477. In that work Piccolomini discusses the arrival of Indians in Europe blown from across the Atlantic at a date when America was unknown to Europeans (another post another day). Next to this passage a reader has written in Latin the following extraordinary words:

"Homines de catayo versus oriens venierunt. Nos vidimus multa notabilia et specialiter in galuei ibernie virum et uxorem in duabus lignis areptis ex mirabili persona."

the author of the marginalia is remembered by history as Christopher Columbus. He was most likely in Ireland in 1476-1477 on a sailing trip to the north. This accidental encounter with a Amerindians (or Chinese as he believed)..."

https://forums.forteana.org/index.p...ailed-the-ocean-blue.6731/page-8#post-1783712

Probable/possible translation of the Latin:

"Men from Cathay [China] come towards the west. We saw many remarkable things and particularly in Galway in Ireland a man and a woman on two pieces of drift wood of the most extraordinary appearance.

maximus otter
 

Vardoger

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An article of interest:

edit-scottishgeograph28scotuoft_0156.jpg


Images from David MacRitchie's 1912 article “Kayaks of the North Sea” of the so-called “Aberdeen Kayak”. It was supposedly captured off the east Scottish coast “with an Indian man in it” at the beginning of the 18th century, however, actual evidence of the event and the kayak's origins is scant to say the least

https://publicdomainreview.org/essay/the-orkney-finnmen-legends

maximus otter
Perhaps the kayak is from Greenland. I've searched for kayaks on Google image and the Greenland kayaks seems very slim like this one.

1637337780810.png
 

Xanatic*

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I believe that might be due to some intermingling with non-Saami over the years. However I don't think they were ever mongoloid, so more likely what Columbus saw were inuits.
 
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