a rather unfortunate accident…..

But what if it wasn’t??

Cross Kirk graveyard, Eshaness, Shetland (21)This is the story of Donald Robertson who died at the age of 63 and was put to rest at Cross Kirk Cemetery in Eshaness on Shetland. So far there is nothing sinister or intriguing about the story.

It was the year 1848, a time for fascinating discoveries in medicine, the Antarctic was explored, Queen Victoria travelled by train. Everything seemed possible.

Well, maybe not just everything.

Eshaness (2)

Eshaness is a beautiful, wild and dangerous peninsula on Shetland Mainland. Powerful storms batter the coasts in autumn, the fields need hard work to yield enough crop. Traditions are strong and manifold, the communities are close and disinclined to change. Not an ideal place to be different in.

Eshaness (3)

Cross Kirk graveyard, Eshaness, Shetland (8)Back to Donald Robertson, who became famous for being unfortunate. He died because Laurence Tulloch, a pharmacist in Sullom, gave him Salpeter (used as fertiliser and for making fireworks) instead of Epsom salt, a natural remedy for all kinds of ailments. Donald Robertson suffered a painful death because his blood was no more able to carry the oxygen his body needed.

Cross Kirk graveyard, Eshaness, Shetland (19)In a trial in Lerwick, Tulloch was accused of culpable homicide. He was found guilty but the jury appealed to the sheriff. They thought it was nothing but a terrible accident. Tulloch was incarcerated for a few days and walked scotfree.

He and his family, his wife Agnes and his two daughters, left Shetland after a while. He must have felt unable to live in that small community any longer.

Did people ostracize him for his “error”? Or did they believe worse? Did some think he had done it on purpose?

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But why would he?

One source says:

Donald Roberson was 63 and lived at the Scarff, near Hamnavoe, with Donald Anderson who was a life long friend. Neither man had married and they shared the house with two female servants and one male servant, a nineteen years old, who was the son of one of the women servants.


Two men sharing a house. That is enough reason for suspicion, rumour, homophobia. Maybe there was nothing in it at all. Maybe there was. Maybe Tulloch thought there was. It might have been a murder, a crime of passion, a question of religious righteousness?

Officially it remains a tragic accident and the stones on the graveyard won’t reveal more. But the graveyard gives you all the space to ponder.

Cross Kirk graveyard, Eshaness, Shetland (1)

What if…..?


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