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Reviews / Uninhabited Havera comes to life again

The island of Havera - Book cover: Mark Sinclair

The small Shetland island of Havera lies just south of its larger neighbour Burra Isle. Now uninhabited it was, for over 150 years, home to a small but thriving community – peaking at around 50 in the mid 1800s – the last of which left the island in 1923.

Few in Shetland, especially younger generations, probably know its name or location let alone its history, but now a new book, aligned to an original Havera boat reconstruction project and exhibition in the Shetland Museum and Archives, looks set to change all that.

Launched in the museum on Friday afternoon, the book Havera: the story of an island is packed with facts, anecdotes and pictures relating to community life on the island in the 19th and early 20th century, the hardships of living off land and sea, shipwrecks, lost fishermen and so much more.

Havera authors in the Ann (left to right) Laughton Johnson, Pauleen Wiseman, Christine De Luca and Mark Sinclair - Photo: Davie Cooper/Shetland Amenity Trust

Author Laughton Johnston initially got the idea for the book following a chance conversation with now Lord Lieutenant Bobby Hunter – whose mother was born and lived on the island.

Johnston enlisted the involvement of Shetland poet Christine De Luca and local musician Pauleen Wiseman to add poetry and music to the work to, as he puts it, “help bring out the atmosphere of Havera itself”, while local photographer Mark Sinclair provided images for the publication.

Boats were inevitably an essential part of everyday life on the island throughout its habitation, especially for fishing, bringing in stores and for general communication with the ‘outside world’, so it’s fitting that Shetland museum also unveiled their latest boat exhibit the same afternoon, the fully restored Ann – the only surviving Havera boat, originally built in Scalloway in 1871.

Little remained of the original craft, but in 1999 museum curator Dr Ian Tait saved what remained in the hope of future restoration in light of her remarkable age and rarity – being the second oldest Shetland boat now in existence. 

Local boat builders Jack Duncan and Robbie Tait restoring the Ann - Photo: Shetland Museum and Archives

Now, following a painstaking and very precise process, she’s been fully restored to her original splendour.

The work has been completed using the remaining parts of the original craft, authentic materials and original construction methods, by local boat builders Jack Duncan and Robbie Tait, with the Ann ultimately taking pride of place in the foyer of the museum to coincide with the launch of the book.

Additionally the museum is also currently displaying a number of artefacts from Havera’s past including textiles, a resting chair, a pocket watch, tea services and a gold ring gifted in 1903 to one of the island women from the captain of the shipwrecked Norwegian barque Lovise. All the items have been loaned to the museum by Havera families.

The Ann and the Havera artefacts will remain on show in the museum until the 29 April, while Mark Sinclair’s photography – accompanied by Pauleen Wiseman’s original music for the book – will be on display in the upper foyer of the museum until the same date.

Havera: the story of an island, designed by Craig Sim of Millgaet Media and published by Shetland Heritage Publications, is now on sale in the Shetland museum shop or online at www.shetlandheritageshop.com 

Davie Gardner