Shetland Isles, Scotland


SHETLAND, or ZETLAND, ISLANDS, forming, with Orkney, a maritime county, in the northern extremity of Scotland; bounded on the north by the North Sea, on the east by the German Ocean, and on the west by the Atlantic. They lie between 59° 51' and 60° 52' (N. Lat.) and 52' and 1° 57' (W. Long.), and extend for about seventy miles from north to south, and fifty-four miles from east to west; comprising an area of about 855 square miles, or 547,200 acres; 5530 houses, of which 5388 are inhabited; and containing a population of 30,558, of whom 13,176 are males and 17,382 females. These islands, like those of Orkney, with which in their history they are closely identified, appear to have been visited by the Romans, though they effected no permanent settlement in either. They were at a very early period inhabited by the Picts, of Scandinavian origin, who, long after their defeat by Kenneth II., and the consequent union of the two kingdoms of the Scots and the Picts, continued, under his successors, to maintain in these distant territories a kind of independent sovereignty. As closely connected with the Orkneys, the islands were governed by a succession of petty kings till they were subdued by Harold Harfager, who attached them as appendages to the crown of Norway, and placed them under the government of a succession of Norwegian earls. On the marriage of James III., however, with the Princess Margaret of Norway, they became, and they have ever since remained, part of the kingdom of Scotland. They give the title of Earl of Zetland to the Dundas family.

Previously to the abolition of episcopacy, Shetland formed part of the diocese of Orkney; at present it constitutes the synod of Shetland, and comprises the presbyteries of Lerwick, Burravoc, and Olnafirth, and twelve parishes, the ministers of which are appointed by the Earl of Zetland exclusively. There are also two parliamentary incumbencies, in the gift of the Crown. For civil purposes the islands are united with those of Orkney, forming one county under the jurisdiction of a sheriff-depute, who appoints two sheriffs-substitute, one for each of the districts. By the provisions of the act of the 2nd of William IV., Shetland is also associated with Orkney in returning a member to the imperial parliament. The only town is Lerwick, besides which there are merely the village of Scalloway and some small hamlets, on the coasts. Lerwick was erected into a royal burgh of barony in 1818.

SHETLAND comprises a cluster or ninety islands, of which twenty-five are inhabited, and the remainder small holms principally appropriated to pasture. They are nearly contiguous to each other, being separated only by narrow sounds or firths; with the exception of Foula and Fair Isle, of which the former is about twenty-five miles to the west, and the latter twenty miles; to the south, of Mainland, and except also the Out Skerries, which lie about six miles north-eastward of Whalsay. Of the inhabited islands the principal is Mainland, above fifty-five miles in length and twenty-five miles in breadth. To the north of Mainland, from which it is separated by Yell Sound, is the island of Yell; twenty miles long and seven miles in average breadth; to the north of which, again, is the island of Unst, about twelve miles in length and from three to four in breadth. These three are the most important of the group. Of the other islands the largest is Fetlar, to the east of Yell, about four miles and a half in length and three and a half in breadth; and to the south of this, and opposite to Lerwick, is the island of Bressay, about four miles long and two miles in breadth. Of the two distant islands, Foula, supposed to be the Ultima Thule of the ancients, is three miles in length and a mile and a half in breadth; while Fair Isle is about the same in length and two miles broad. Among the remaining inhabited islands are Whalsay, Burra, Trondray, and the Out Skerries; and in addition to these are numerous small isles, holms affording pasturage to cattle, skerries covered by the tide at high water, and rocky islets, which it would be tedious to enumerate.

Transcribed from Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851
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