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  Betty Corrigall - The Lady of Hoy

Betty Corrigall's Grave: Picture by Sigurd TowrieIn the late 1770s, at Greengairs Cottage in Hoy, there lived a young woman named Betty Corrigall.

At the age of 27, Betty's life was left in ruins when the man she had fallen pregnant to, deserted her and ran away to sea.

The castigation of the locals and the trauma and shame of the situation were too much for the poor girl. She was driven to take her own life.

An attempt to drown herself in the sea was foiled when she was rescued and taken back to shore. But her respite was brief.

Days later she hanged herself.

Her suicide meant that she could not be given a Christian burial. Denied a place in the kirkyard, the Lairds of Melsetter and Hoy also refused to have her body on their ground.

So Betty Corrigall had to be interred in unconsecrated ground.

Her final resting place was an unmarked, isolated grave on the boundary of the parishes of Hoy and North Walls, a short distance from the Water o' Hoy.

There she lay, forgotten.

In 1933, two men out cutting peats for fuel uncovered the corner of her wooden coffin. Thinking the box might hold treasure, they consulted Isaac Moar, Hoy’s postmaster. It was decided to open it.

Taking up their spades, the box was recovered and found to contain the body of a young woman, her long dark hair curling about her shoulders. The peat that had preserved her corpse had only tinged Betty's skin a shade of brown.

The noose that had ended her life lay beside her, but, according to tradition, it turned to dust when exposed to the air.

After being examined by police from Kirkwall, the procurator fiscal ordered that the coffin be reburied in exactly the same spot. So Betty Corrigall was returned to the earth, where, were it not for the outbreak of World War Two, she would have remained undisturbed.

During wartime, Hoy was swarming with thousands of British troops, Lyness serving as a major naval base serving the anchorage of Scapa Flow.

Early in 1941, a working party of soldiers were once again digging on the peat-bank when they came across the unmarked grave. Christening her "The Lady of Hoy", Betty's grave was quickly covered over.

This, however, was the beginning of the end.

Morbid curiosity among the soldiers stationed on the island was such that there were repeated excursions to the gravesite to exhume and view the remains.

The resulting exposure to the air meant that Betty’s remains deteriorated rapidly. This practice was eventually brought to the attention of the officers, who took steps to stop it. The grave was moved 50 yards and a concrete slab placed over the coffin.

But the grave remained unmarked.

On a visit to Hoy in 1949, an American minister by the name of Kenwood Bryant, erected a wooden cross on the grave and surrounded it with a little fence. He then asked Hoy's Customs and Excise officer, Mr Harry Berry, to fashion a suitable gravestone.

Mr Berry agreed, but it took nearly 30 years before his promise was fulfilled. Then, one evening in 1976, he erected a small fibre-glass headstone at the grave. At the same time, a quiet burial service was performed at Betty's lonely grave.

The girl who had died a sinner for nothing more than loving and trusting another could finally rest in peace.