to heirs male of his body

Tingwall graveyard, ShetlandTingwall is an ancient place that bears a Scandinavian name as many places do on Shetland. The first church stood here as early as 1200, a place of worship and power.

The Archdeacon of Tingwall was in charge of all Christianity in Shetland. This office dated from 1215 AD until 1690 when Presbyterianism was established in Scotland. (1)

The present and rather austere building is of a much later date but still one of the oldest in Scotland, it goes back to the 18th century.

The “Ting” is a word taken from Old Norse and denotes a place where an early form of parliament was held and law was spoken.

the Ting

Tingwall derives from the Old Norse Þingvöllr (field of the thing). A thing or þing was the word for a Norse parliament. þings were often held on a Þingvöllr, or “Þing field”, where a mound would be raised. The mound was built with handfuls of earth from all members different districts, so that each member could say that they were on home ground. A slight mound can still be seen on Law Ting holm, but it has been eroded. Here a group of men would meet with the Earl on an annual basis. (2)

Shetland was firmly Scandinavian during the 13th and 14th centuries and was finally pawned to Scotland for the dowry of the future wife for James III, Margaret.

The most interesting feature on the churchyard is burial crypt, only a stone’s throw away from Tingwall church: striking and massive from the outside and slighty sinister from within, a cold and mouldy chamber filled with ancient gravestones.


the three Barons

Mitchell burial vaultSir John Mitchell of Westshore was Steward Depute and Justiciar of the Islands of Orkney and Zetland (an old word for Shetland) and created a Baronet of Great Britain by King George I. It was a baronetcy that would not last long because it was limited to heirs male of his body. And even though Sir John did everything in his power to start a long and fruitful line, the male line died with his grandson only 59 years later.

Sir John fathered seven sons and nine daughters. Of his seven sons, four died young. The fifth born son Andrew became the 2nd Baronet. Sir Andrew was an advocate and appointed Sheriff Depute of Orkney and Zetland. He married twice and had eight children by his first wife, four sons and four daughters. His first born John beacme the 3rd Baronet.

The third and last Baronet Sir John Mitchell was baptised at Tingwall just 10 years after his grandfather received the baronetcy, in 1734. He was a military man and died without issue in 1783. His body was interred in Westminster and not the family vault in Tingwall. Sir John Mitchell, his grandfather was buried in the family vault at Tingwall, 14th June 1739. (3)

the vault

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Three Baronets from 1724 to 1783. The family motto: Sapiens qui assiduus, he is wise who is assiduous.

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the sarcophagus

There is also, nearby in the churchyard, an elaborate 17th-century stone sarcophagus, carved with two shields for Mitchell and Umphray and emblems of mortality in relief Oohn Mitchell and his wife Jean Umphray). Elegiac couplets on both long sides read:

Because of the sin of one man is death busy all the world over,

But through the grace of One has come the gift of life and salvation.

Monuments made of marble moulder at last and fall,

Virtue alone remains eternal after death.

This sarcophagus used to serve as a social resting place for men who arrived early for the Sunday morning service, some of whom may have walked several miles – the tomb could seat up to eight people! (4)

sources and further reading:


related posts on Graveyards of Scotland:

field of the unknown dead

a rather unfortunate accident

first body

grave mounds


Liked the read? There’s more here...

Scotland is a country full of history, stories and secrets. Often, the three cannot be separated. That is what makes this country so wonderful and unique. The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for Erkenbach’s blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. 

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available as ebook and paperback on Amazon.

Her main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel.This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share the author’s passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps.

The fairy hill in Inverness, a nitrate murder on Shetland, a family of left-handers, wolves, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace shown in a new light, the secret bay of the writer Gavin Maxwell, a murdering poet and so many things you didn’t know about Scotland, its clans and its history.

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