Margaret Humphrey

Other names: 
Margaret Allen
Dates: 
Baptised 16 February 1773

Margaret Allen was the daughter of William Allan and Margaret Wilson. She married George Humphrey on 9 June 1791, and according to the 1821 Census return, George was a teacher. The couple had 13 children between 1792 and 1815.

A letter from John Baikie to Thomas Balfour MP, dated 24 Feb 1836, refers to two whaling ships, the 'Lady Jane' and 'Viewforth', which were stuck in the ice in the Davis Straits. He says that people from the ships were ‘removed to the shore where Mrs Humphrey’s house was fitted up as a hospital which contained 26 or 28…’. Another source refers to letters written by Mrs Humphrey to her son Charles from 1837. Margaret Humphrey is described as ‘a widow in her sixties when she wrote to her 27 year old son Charles. To support herself, she had leased a house in 1836 to use as a hospital for 26 scurvy-ridden whalers, the survivors of a disaster when 20 ships had become crushed in the Arctic ice.’

An extract dated January 1935, from the diary of Wallie Scott, one of the whalers who survived after his ship was stuck in the ice, recalls how ‘When we got back to Stromness they put me and the other four into Mrs. Humphrey’s house.’

In the 1821 Census return, Margaret Humphrey is listed as a sick nurse (age 65), and in the 1851 Census return, she is listed as a widow and a midwife, aged 74.

There is clearly some confusion about how old she was, and very little information about the hospital she set up.

Sources
Census returns
Balfour of Balfour & Trenaby papers
Letter from John Baikie to Thomas Balfour MP, 24 Feb. 1836
Undelivered letters to Hudson Bay Company Men on the Northwest Coast of America, 1830-57
Edited by Judith Hudson Beattie and Helen M Buss (see pp. 103-115)