Jo Ben's "Descriptions of Orkney"
Descriptio Insularum Orchadiarum,
ascribed to the enigmatic Jo Ben, is the oldest surviving
account of the Orkney Islands, after they transferred to Scotland
Although the Jo Ben manuscript
claims the account dates from 1529, it has been suggested that this
is not a true date and that his "Descriptions of Orkney"
were written later in the century.
Jo Ben's identity remains unknown,
although it has been suggested that he was an ecclesiastic named
John Bellenden, or Ballendon. Where he came from, and his reasons
for being in Orkney, are not known.
The manuscript, in the original Latin,
was found in the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh, and was printed
in Latin in Barry's History of Orkney in the early 19th century.
For the translation in this section,
the text in Barry's History of Orkney, first edition, was
followed but I have altered some of the translations - in particular,
those not thought to be suitable for readers at the time.
much of the text is coherent, there are sections where the author's
real meaning is very difficult to ascertain. Whether this is simply
due to his attempts at describing something unfamiliar, or resulted
from errors due to subsequent copyists and printers, is open to question.
I have added notes and links to sections
where it is clear what Jo Ben was referring to.
section alternative interpretations of Ben's original text are given
in square brackets [***].
I have also retained the island and parish
names used by Jo Ben in his manuscript, even in case like Stenhouse,
for Stenness, where he was incorrect.