In 1887, John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles described Orkney like this:
Orkney, insular co. of Scotland, separated from Caithness by the Pentland Firth (6½ to 8 miles broad); area, 240,476 ac., pop. 32,044; pop. of Pomona, or Mainland, 17,165. The Orkneys comprise 67 islands, 28 of which are inhabited, besides a large number of rocky islets or skerries. They are divided into 3 groups - the South Isles, comprising the large islands of Hoy, South Ronaldshay, and many smaller ones; Pomona, or Mainland, the largest island of the Orkneys; and the North Isles, comprising Rousay, Shapinshay, Westray, Papa Westray, Eday, Stronsay, Sanday, and North Ronaldshay. ...
Except on the S. and W. sides, where the cliffs are bold and precipitous, the coasts of the islands are extremely irregular, abounding in bays and headlands. The surface - most elevated in Hoy, which is hilly - is generally low, and much interspersed with rocks, swamps, and lochs. The climate, prevailingly moist, is mild and equable for the latitude. The soil mostly consists of peat or moss, but is either sandy or of a good loam where the land is arable. The farms are usually of small size; oats, barley, and turnips are grown. Live stock, poultry, and eggs are largely exported. (For agricultural statistics, see Appendix.) There is regular steam communication between Leith and Kirkwall, an active trade being kept up. Orkney forms one of the great Scottish fishery districts. Fishing and agriculture are the chief industries. There are two distilleries in Pomona. The Orkneys were known to the Romans as the Orcades, and seem to have been originally peopled by Celts. About the beginning of the 4th century the islands were visited by the Norse sea-rovers, who ultimately settled upon them. They were annexed to Norway in the latter part of the 9th century, and in 1468 were attached to Scotland as a pledge for the dowry of the Princess of Denmark who married James III. The people still retain some traces of their Scandinavian descent. Orkney comprises 18 pars., the parl. and police burgh of Kirkwall (part of the Wick Burghs), and the police burgh of Stromness. It unites with Shetland in returning 1 member to Parl.
For an overview of how the county has changed, please see our redistricted information for the modern of Orkney -- but you should check this covers the area you are interested in.
GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Orkney | Map and description for the county, A Vision of Britain through Time.
Date accessed: 23rd May 2013
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