The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

John Gow (c.1698-1725)

John Gow was born in Wick around 1698 to the merchant William Gow, who moved to Stromness where John grew up before running away to sea.

In 1724, at the age of 26, he found himself in Amsterdam. There he joined the Caroline, a trading ship, as a second mate and gunner.

The following month the ship arrived in Santa Cruz where woollen cloth, leather and beeswax were loaded onboard.

There was a lot of unrest among the crew and the complaints about the bad food and conditions did not go unnoticed by Captain Ferneau, who had his officer prepare small arms to act as a deterrent and to enforce discipline onboard ship.

The situation deteriorated and on 3 November 1724 the crew mutinied  --  making their way to the cabins, the first mate and surgeon had their throats cut.

The captain was alerted and was also attacked. Although severely wounded, he managed to hold the attackers at bay but finally died when John Gow shot him and threw his body overboard.

Gow was elected captain and renamed the ship Revenge. He and his men soon gained a reputation for their acts of piracy in the seas of Spain, France and Portugal.

He decided to head home to Orkney when supplies began to run low. He believed that the isolated mansion of the islands’ gentry would provide easy pickings and he could lie low for a time.

So in January 1725 the Revenge sailed for Orkney and dropped anchor in Cairston Roads, beyond the Holms of Hamnavoe.

Changing the name of the ship to George and appearing respectable, he called himself Mr Smith and told a tale of how he was returning home after his ship had been blown off course.

He was wined and dined before his piracy was revealed by disaffected crewmen. Rumours of his true purpose came to a head when the captain of a visiting merchant vessel recognised the Revenge and knew of Gow's exploits.

Now that he had been found out, he staged a brief attack on the Hall of Clestrain where the crew made off with linen, plates and other valuable articles.

It is also said that two young girls were taken and were later released on the island of Cava.

Gow next sailed to Carrick House on Eday to visit his old friend James Fea. Unfortunately, luck was not on his side and the Revenge became grounded opposite Carrick House.

On 17 February 1725, after prolonged correspondence between Gow and Fea, the pirate was forced to surrender.

He was tried at the Old Bailey and was charged with murder and piracy.

He and seven accomplices were executed at Execution Dock, London on 11 June 1725.

The Groatie House

When the Revenge grounded, James Fea captured Gow and his men.

The ship was later re-floated and taken south but her ballast of volcanic rock was left behind on the Calf of Eday.

James Traill, an Edinburgh lawyer and merchant, bought an old house called the Gallery on Bridge Street, Kirkwall in 1730 and had it rebuilt. He later decided to have a summer house built in the garden.

He recovered the ship's ballast and used it build a spire for his garden house. Shells were used to decorate it – hence the name The Groatie House, a groatie buckie being the local name for the cowrie shell.

In 2004 the summer house was moved from its original home and painstakingly re-built in Tankerness House Gardens, Kirkwall, just behind the Orkney Museum. Entry to the gardens is free.