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by Elsie Seatter
The first recorded evidence of the Mudie family in Hoy and South Walls occurred in 1497 when Magister Willielmus Mudie, parson of Hoy and South Walls was noted as “possessing land in Hoy and Graemsay”.
William Mudie, first Laird of Melsetter
William Mudie “of Breckness and of Snelsetter Castle and Melsetter” was apparently a man of consequence and Chamberlain in Orkney for Mary Queen of Scots.
He and his ancestors were declared to be “ancient and udal possessors of Snelsetter since time immemorial”. The family residence at the manor house of Snelsetter was named the “House of Walls”.
Adam Moodie, second Laird of Melsetter
From 1596 to 1600
The mansion house of Melsetter was built by Adam Moodie before the family were forcibly evicted from Snelsetter by Earl Patrick Stewart in 1598. The Earl was then considering rebellion and proceeded to fortify the house. This was doubtless the ‘place of strength’ said to have been erected in Walls by Earl Robert. Adam was rector of Hoy and Walls for some time and married Christian Stewart , daughter of Robert, First Earl of Orkney. He died in 1600 and was succeeded by his son, Francis.
Francis Moodie, third Laird of Melsetter
From 1600 to 1643
Francis maintained the feud with Earl Patrick Stewart for a decade after his father’s death and finally saw Patrick beheaded for high treason in 1615. Despite taking the feud to the extremes of lawlessness , Francis always managed to be acquitted of any charges brought against him. He was nicknamed “Wanton Francis” on account of the large number of children he fathered – both in and out of wedlock.
After Earl Patrick’s execution Francis regained Snelsetter , but, under a master who spent so much of his time feuding, the Moodie estates suffered somewhat. By 1628, through debt and persistent borrowing he was forced to sell off the mainland property of Breckness.
James Moodie, fourth Laird of Melsetter
1643 to 1681
James was Francis’ “eldest lawful son”. As a young man of 21 he is said to have “created an ryot” in the streets of Kirkwall having “rushed from the barr” and cleared his way from the court with a drawn sword. He appears to have settled down after his inheritance however, and devoted two decades to the rehabilitation of the Moodie estates, also acquiring a large amount of land in Walls. This process was carried on by two of his seven sons, William and James. He was a member of the Committee of Landowners appointed under Cromwell’s rule to keep order in Orkney. He died at Snelsetter in 1681.
William Moodie, fifth Laird of Melsetter
From 1681 to 1708
Before inheriting the estate, William secretly married Barbara Stewart of Burray. Both families were opposed to the union and petitioned the Bishop of Orkney to stop the marriage proclamation. The Bishop, however, took the young couple’s part and the marriage was duly confirmed. William and Barbara lived at Snelsetter where their initials were carved in a stone which can now be seen in the wall of an outbuilding at Melsetter. William was unable to pay the outstanding debts of the estate and by 1697 was bankrupt. He mortgaged the properties to his brother, Captain James Moodie, a career naval officer.
The initials of William Moodie and his wife Barbara Stewart
Captain James Moodie, sixth Laird of Melsetter
From 1708 to 1720
James, William’s eldest son, was a captain in military service and returned to Melsetter in 1697 to find it mortgaged to his uncle and namesake Captain James Moodie RN. With the aid of his uncle’s wealth, Captain Moodie increased the estate, built a mill, other farm buildings and a house at Melsetter. He enclosed parks for sheep, encouraged smuggling, ran a profitable ferry service from Walls to Caithness and supplied some of the first Orcadian recruits for the Hudson Bay Company.
He was a Jacobite, but by posing as a loyal supporter of the Hanerovian crown, James served member of Parliament for Orkney and Shetland from 1715 to 1722and was Deputy lieutenant for the County. Eventually losing his parliamentary seat and the favour of the Hanerovian Court, he fled into exile and became a colonel in the Spanish army. He never returned to Orkney.
Captain James Moodie RN, seventh Laird of Melsetter
From 1720 to 1725
In 1696 Captain Moodie, by carrying an illegal cargo of luxury goods from Turkey on board his naval vessel, acquired sufficient wealth to save the family land from creditors. He retired from a distinguished career in the navy to take over the estate from his nephew but became involved in a local feud that was to cost him his life and ruin the family. A staunch Hanerovian, his occupancy of the estate was marred by a dispute with the Jacobean family of Sir James Stewart of Burray. In October 1725 Alexander Stewart, younger brother of Sir James, was flogged by the Moodies of Melsetter for hunting wildfowl on disputed territory. Sir James was enraged by this and on October 25th of that year, whilst Captain Moodie was heading for a meeting of JPs in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, the Captain was shot and mortally wounded by one of Stewart’s servants. At the time of his death his only surviving son was an infant of two years old. Benjamin’s mother, the Captain’s second wife Christian Crawford, took over the running of the estate.