Orkney delivers venue, book-buyers, and a letter about John Rae’s last day

Turns out that Orkney was more than ready for me. Wonderful venue, the Orkney Theatre in Kirkwall. Good-sized audience, well-informed. Excellent introduction by my friend Tom Muir. And all those books we brought? Sold every one. I talked about John Rae, the Hall of Clestrain restoration, the Arctic Return Expedition. Had several fun conversations. That special bottle of John Rae whisky I received here a few years back, one of only thirty, is steadily increasing in value. So that’s cool.

Oh, and a woman gave me a copy of a letter that Kate Rae, the explorer’s Canadian wife, wrote about Rae’s last day.  The letter-giver was the great-great-granddaughter of the recipient. Readers of Fatal Passage will recall that I quote the wonderfully expressive Kate Rae near the end of the book.  She and her sister came to Orkney to see the Stromness native buried. From the Kirkwall Hotel, on July 29, 1893, Kate wrote to Major James Barnett of the 1st Orkney Volunteers Artillery.  She remarked on “the great love he had for these islands and the Orkney people, and the many happy years he passed here both in this youth and in maturer years . . . . He was so pleased you had written to remind him [of his previous generosity], and said how active you had always been both in volunteers and boating matters and he said what a good shot you were and he asked me to go myself and get the postal order [for a magazine subscription] and send it to you at once. I scarcely ever left his bedside, but I went at once and got the order and wrote the note beside him and had it posted. It was his last subscription to anything and it seemed to me most suitable for amongst his simple pleasures he loved his boat dearly.”

Don’t you love gifts like that?

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