2019 President’s Report

12 November 2019

October 27th 2019

I am delighted that we had several very successful open days. These were kindly held in Ivan and Jean’s garage: our stalwart visitors welcomed refreshments during oft-Arctic conditions. A goodly proportion of these joined the society.

It was our distinct aim to raise the remaining sum of around 12k to complete payment of The Hall of Clestrain. With raffles, the John Rae Birthday Lottery and kind donations. This sum was almost reached.

A very generous Texan gentleman, Bill Miller, secured the purchase at the last minute with a donation of £9,5000. This gave us over and above our needs. The final sum was presented to Ivan and Jean Cragie at the draw of the Lottery, thus securing the property to JRS.

The approaching winter storms threatened. Paddy Casey, of Casey Construction agreed to step in and secure the roof, stop the constant leaks and cover the windows with clear Perspex. This repulsed the pervading pigeons and the Casey Gang cleared the final ordure, produced by these perching avians.

The Hall is now drying out and considered saved. Had the roof blown away in the winter storms, which was most likely, we would have lost the floors and much valuable detail. I consider the works to have been completed just in time!

February saw new members signing on. We reached just over 300, which is the tipping point to greater memberships.

The Co Op shops in Orkney adopted The John Rae Society as one of their worthy causes for this year. Already £2K has come our way. This is most encouraging indeed.

March saw the commencement of the Arctic Return expedition. This was an amazing feat of endurance by the four explorers. Sadly, two had to withdraw from the expedition some way through. We are so grateful to Garry Tutte and Frank Wolfe, who didn’t make it for their bravery. David Reid, leader and Richard Smith completed the expedition that followed the route that John Rae took when he learned the fate of the Franklin Expedition and also discovered the final link in the North West Passage. Please go to www.arcticreturn.com for the full update. 

The Society is thrilled with our new website! Mark Newton, our webmaster worked diligently with Johanna of Orcadia Design to create a really stimulating set of webpages. The Merchandise side is working well and the current information is well displayed and so easily accessible. Many congratulations!

CORPORATE MEMBERSHIP. Minimum £500 fee, then £50.00 per year. This has now been taken up firstly by Adventure Canada, then RICS, Birsay Energy Trust, Kristin Linklater Voice Centre, Skarabooks with Stockan’s Oatcakes to follow. We are actively seeking further corporate members. It is recommended that Casey Construction be awarded Corporate Membership in recognition of their immense support.

The Cuminga Trust has generously supported our archaeological activities. They are very impressed with the high standard of the interesting work we carried out. They have promised to continue funding us. The latest ectsect was an archive day, where we discovered the completion details of The Hall of Clestrain on 13th September 1769. This being so we began planning a celebration to mark the occasion.

In May we purchased a PortaCabin to use as a temporary Visitor Centre. Casey Construction realized the inadequacy of it and lent us a far superior cabin for as long as we need it. This has worked so well for us. On open days we can supply teas and cakes and have retail space. We are immensely grateful to Ivan and Jean for the use of their garage in our earlier stages.

Dr. Barbara Rae R.A. gave is an Inuit model kayak, which actually formed part of John Rae’s personal collection. This is displayed in our showcase of other Inuit artifacts.

JRS is delighted to announce that we have engaged a Projects Manager. Sandra Deans has been appointed to this post. She has been fully engaged in researching and applying for grant aid to make our projects entirely successful.

Visitor figures have increased time on time on our open days, proving the popularity and support that JRS has for its ambitions. All of these visitors applaud our aims to create The John Rae International Arctic Centre, which could become The Gateway to The Arctic.

The Orkney Science Festival promoted a John Rae Weekend. A tremendous foraged dinner produced by internationally renowned chefs made an admirable repast at The Orphir Community Centre. Sam Britten of Orkney Craft Vinegar led the policy of natural foods. Reflecting what was available in Orkney’s Neolithic and in John Rae’s time an amazing and memorable evening was the grand result. JRS had a very profitable raffle and Highland Park served special whisky at the event. The following afternoon programme of Arctic and Foraging talks were presented. Maria Pia Cassarini spoke of Sir John Franklin’s sad exploits. In the interval she cut The Hall of Clestrain’s 250th birthday cake. Baked by Harray Stores, this was a most welcome occasion.

This year, because of the 250th, we decided to have a further celebration  to mark it. The planned visit of Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Secretary for the Arts and Culture happened to coincide with our arrangements. Her cause was to launch the Scottish Government’s Arctic Policy document on Monday 23rd September. Invited to this were David Reid and Richard Smith of Arctic Return. They gave a presentation at the event supporting the announcement at the new Conference Centre on the Heriot Watt University, Stromness.

On the Saturday before we had an open day, which was the best ever attended. On the Sunday evening we hosted a Charity Auction for JRS at The Orkney Distillery in Kirkwall. Guests of honour were David Reid and Richard Smith. The evening was a sparkling success with over £3,000 raised. Highland Park donated a star auction prize of their Ambassador’s Whisky Boxed Display. Good results were attained in the bidding, especially, I might add, The John Rae Pineapple, which reached £55.00 from one of the Secretary of Sate’s lucky entourage! Fiona Hyslop was presented with silver earrings and a pendant from Sheila Fleet’s new Arctic Stream range of jewelry. Billy Jolly and Andy Can’t played for us. Harvey Johnston gave us a new rousing speech: Great fun was had by all.

Following the Scottish Government’s Arctic announcement, David Reid and Richard Smith presented a riveting talk at The Orkney Theatre about their expedition. The Maureen Findlay Dancers opened the evening with a beautiful performance of The John Rae Reel. The school children that created the winning flag designs for Arctic Return waved the explorers on to the stage. They presented David Reid and Richard Smith with Honorary Life Membership scrolls at the end of their presentation. Highland Park provided whisky tastings and we served Arctic Roll and Pineapple juice.

This was an amazing weekend supported by visitors from Canada, America, France and all over the UK.

Jane Hamilton has given us a special Inuit-made covered bowl from shiny black mudstone. Being fragile, it is damaged. We intend having it professionally restored for our permanent collection.

Membership has now risen to over 330

A sincere thank you to our amazing volunteers for their tremendous help. I would like to mention the young Duncan McNeish whose youthful skills make our laptop till work so efficiently.

Finally, I wish to record that we lost Ian McIntyre. He was taken with cardiac arrest late in September. At his memorial service £1,475 was raised for the John Rae Society. This was sad and sudden news. If anyone would like to add to that sum in his memory, then please do. Our thoughts are with Anne.

Andrew Appleby. President John Rae Society