The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Isobel Gunn

John Fubbister, like many young Orcadians, joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1806 and was regarded as a hard worker. So good was his work that he earned a pay rise for doing his duties "willingly and well".

However, on the morning of 29 December 1807, he begged the chief factor of the company to let him stay in his house. He appeared unwell and, puzzled by the man’s behaviour, the factor agreed and allowed him to sit by the fire.

His journal records the following event:

"I returned to my room, where I had not been long before he sent one of my own people, requesting the favour of speaking with me. Accordingly, I stepped down to him, and was much surprised to find him extended on the hearth, uttering dreadful lamentations; he stretched out his hands towards me, and in piteous tones begged me to be kind to a poor, helpless, abandoned wretch, who was not of the sex I had supposed, but an unfortunate Orkney girl, pregnant and actually in childbirth."

John Fubbister was in fact Isobel Gunn, a young girl from the parish of Tankerness in Orkney.

She gave birth to a boy whom she named James. The father’s identity isn’t known, but she did refer to a fellow Orcadian, John Scarth, who she said had taken advantage of her. Indeed records did prove that he had been stationed in Rupert’s Land at the same time

Now the truth was known, she could no longer work amongst the men. She found work as a washer woman in Fort Albany but the work did not suit her, and on 20 September 1809 she sailed for home.

She returned to Stromness and worked as a seamstress. It is said she lived in poverty with her son until she died in 1861, aged 81.