The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Betty Corrigall

One of the saddest sights in Orkney must be the lonely grave of Betty Corrigall. It lies on a remote piece of hill on Hoy and she would have been completely forgotten if it were not for fate.

Betty lived at Greengairs Cottage in Hoy in the late 1770s.

When she was 27 her life became unbearable when she found herself pregnant. Her boyfriend abandoned her and ran away to sea, leaving her alone and ashamed.

With no support, and in despair, she tried to drown herself by walking into the sea but she was rescued by the very people who looked down on her for being pregnant and single. A few days later she hanged herself.

Betty Corrigall's graveIn those days a suicide was not allowed to be given a Christian burial.

The Lairds of Melsetter refused her a final resting place on their land, so Betty was buried in an unmarked grave on the parish boundary of North Walls and Hoy.

There she lay until 1933 when two men cutting peats came across the corner of a wooden box. Thinking it may contain treasure, they contacted Isaac Moar, the postmaster. They decided to open it.

On opening the coffin they found the body of a young woman. The peat had preserved her corpse and her long dark hair lay in curls around her shoulders. It is said that the noose she used lay in the box beside her, but turned to dust when exposed to the air.

As the body was so fresh the police came across from Kirkwall to investigate the corpse. The Procurator Fiscal called for the coffin and its contents to be re-buried in the same spot.

Betty was re-interred and lay undisturbed until 1951, when a party of soldiers digging for peats came across the coffin for a second time. They investigated their find and named her “The Lady of Hoy” before burying her yet again.

Sadly, the curiosity of soldiers stationed on the island saw her being dug up several times. The body, which was now frequently exposed to the air, quickly began to decay.

This was brought to the attention of officers who moved the grave 50 yards and covered it over with a concrete slab to deter the ghouls. The grave remained unmarked.

In 1949 a visiting American minister, Kenwood Bryant, put up a wooden cross at the site, erected a small wooden fence and conducted a service for Betty Corrgall.

Bryant asked local man, Harry Berry, to construct a headstone for her.

It took nearly 30 years before it was ready but in 1976 a headstone made of fibreglass – to prevent it sinking into the boggy ground – was placed above the grave.

A second, quiet service was performed and now, finally, Betty Corrigall has a proper grave and a proper gravestone.