Melsetter House

Melsetter House is a private home overlooking the bay of Longhope. The current house was built, incorporating an earlier property, in the late 1890’s by the famous Arts & Crafts architect William Richard Lethaby; the garden is reputed to be one of the oldest in Orkney.

Melsetter was originally the home of the Moodie family who owned much of Walls from the late 1500’s until around 1820; the Moodie burial place is in the Longhope Cemetery below the RNLI Memorial.

Melsetter House Opening Times:

Open Friday and Saturday in May, June and September.  Please phone ahead to arrange an appointment on 01856 791352.


60 thoughts on “Melsetter House

  1. The Moodie family are my forebares through my paternal mothers line. I carry the middle name of Heddle which was a former surname within the genealogy believed to have come from the Vikings of the Heddal valley in Norway.
    I would like to come and visit sometime in the foreseeable future. I hope this would be acceptable.

  2. Hi Ewan!
    Thought you might be interested with these details if you don’t have them already. I too hope to visit Melsetter House & Burial place on Hoy in July 2016 as I believe my ancestors are connected to. Cheers.

    Henrietta Heddle (born Moodie)
    Circa 1794 – Melsetter, Orkney, Scotland
    July 2 1833 – Edinburgh, Scotland
    James Moodie, Elizabeth Moodie (born Dunbar)
    … Moodie, Thomas Moodie, Donald Moodie, John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie, Jessie (Janet) Nicholson (born Moodie), James Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie

    • They are definitely related. I will get my records out at the weekend and share which are. I know we have cousins in Dunbar whose name is Robertson.
      You my like to connect via email so I can send you more details.

    • Hello fellow Moodie relatives
      My name is Michael Vallance Newlands.
      I reside in Toronto Canada. My Grandmother was Mamie Moodie daughter of John Moodie.
      John Moodie was a very prominent Hamilton, Ontario entrepreneur and was the first owner of an automobile in Canada.
      My great grandfathers parents immigrated from Scotland and I have some documents supporting this which I would be glad to share

  3. Melsetter House is a private home but is open to the public by appointment only, please call 01856 791352 to arrange a visit.

    • We will visit Scotland during October 2020.

      Do you have an email address where we can contact you?

      Is Melsetter House still closed to the public?

      Kind regards

      Benjamin Moodie

  4. Our family is related to the Moodies through Susanna Strickland, who married John Moodie. My wife and I had the pleasure of having a meal with Elsie Streeter at Melstter in September, 2011

    We are told that Elsie died recently, and would love to see her obituary, as she was the de facto custodian of the various Moodie properties on Hoy

    • Hi Peter,
      I’m was interested to see your comments as my 2 times Great Grandfather was James Moodie born 1850 and married Elizabeth Sutherland but she died after they had a daughter, Isabella Sutherland Moodie. I know his father was John Moodie and think his mother was Barbara or Elizabeth Dunbar. I haven’t the family tree with me atm so can’t look at the details. Both James Moodie and daughter Isabella came to Australia in 1890 era and he remarried to my 2 times Great Grandmother, Jane McCall on 25 December 1895 in Brisbane QLD Australia, from memory. I would like to learn more about the Moodie family from Hoy as we were told the family came from there although I believe James Moodie was born in Thurso. We visited last year FNS and went over to the Orkneys but hadn’t allowed enough time to get to Hoy as it isn’t easy to access. If anyone has a Moodie family tree to share that includes James Moodie born 1850 I would be extremely pleased to see it. With thanks.

      • Hi Peter,
        Just saw your comments when I was looking for info on Melsetter House.
        Henrietta Moodie (father Major James Moodie 1757-1820 and mother Elizabeth Dunbar 1760-1789) was my g-g-g-grandmother. She married Robert Heddle of Cleats (1780-1842). Her daughter Elizabeth Dunbar Heddle eloped at 16 with John Heddle Traill and had two children, dying at only 21. One was my g-g-grand mother Henrietta Traill and the other was Henry Traill who went to Australia and part founded the Sydney Bulletin amonst other things.
        I have more Moodie family tree if you want it.

      • Hi Desley,

        I am descended from Thomas Muir of Huntershill born 1646.

        He is noted as the 4th Laird of Muir/Moodie/Mundie. Second son of William Moodie. He was sent to Australia as a political prisoner, a Scottish Martyr, however escaped on a ship. There are many publications about his life and legacy.

        His daughter Janet Aitken nee Moodie later emigrated to Tasmania where my paternal descendants continue with the name Marcus Aitken, then Florence Nightingale Aitkin, to my father Marcus Miller.
        We have been living in Brisbane for several generations.

        My aunt and I have been trying to find living relatives via I would love to hear from you. I can be found on Facebook, Alice Jenkins. I have been posting some photos I’ve found through my research.

        Warm regards,
        Alice Jenkins.

        • Hello Alice.
          Great to hear from you. I am so pleased that you reached out and got in touch with me. I will send you my personal details via messenger on Facebook if I can so we can chat more about this Moodie connection. There are several Moodie families living in Brisbane and surround areas, but I’ve not known anyone from your side of the family.
          Will get onto Facebook now.
          Cheers, Desley

    • Hi. I am a Moodie. Canada branch. My gg grandmother was Geraldine Moodie fitzgibbons granddaughter of susanna Moodie and John wedderburn dunbar Moodie, my grandfather was Alexander Dunbar Moodie, RCMP my grandma Rose Collins (First Nations Cree).
      His father John Douglas Moodie Superintendent RCMP married to Geraldine.
      My father also John Douglas Moodie.

  5. My wife Mary Jane Tobiason is the daughter of the late Arthur Harold Moody of Michigan. As we believe Mary Jane is related to the Melsetter Moodies, we visited the Library in Kirkwall where we found a great book on the Moodies written by Elsie. That lead us to a visit of Melsetter and the Moodie Mausoleum in 2009. Elsie gave us a tour of Melsetter. Sorry to hear of Elsie’s passing. A Robert Moody of Scotland was a Quartermaster on Captain James Cook’s second exploration of the Pacific. Wonder if he is related to the Orkney Moodies?

  6. Very sorry to hear Melsetter House is no longer open (by appointment) to the public. Should that change – or should you be willing to consider a visit at any time, please could you let me know? I would be keen to visit as part of any group (Historic House Assoc etc.) which might take place. Many thanks, T

    • Hi Toby,

      We have been informed that Melsetter House is closed to the public for the foreseeable future, however, if things change, we will endeavour to keep people updated via our website.

      Kind Regards


  7. Hi
    My name is Thomas Moodie from Greenock , and i am trying to trace my family tree, my fathers name was william and my mums annie, it has took me to orkney , i wonder if you could point me in the right direction and some info on the anything that might be helpful

  8. I am so disappointed that Melsetter House is closed. My family is closely linked to the Moodie trek that settled in Rhodesia, and named their town Melsetter, in the 1800s. I was just in the process of making travel arrangements to visit Orkney and Melsetter….

    • Hi Mandy
      Im from Zim and have been following Thomas Moodies trek..our family businesses were called Gazaland and am so glad to end out more not Melsetter as I am from Zimbabwe. I live in Scotland now finding the connections really tangible feel at parallels with his journey , him going there me coming here..

  9. Hello Lavinia Vaughen
    My g g grandmother was also Henrietta Traill. I met a Vaughen lady at a house sale years ago who said the Vaughens were related to me. My grandmother was Brenda Traill Skae, sister of one who married a Vaughen. When visiting Orkney a few days ago I had fun at the Family Archive at the Library in Kirkwall, discovering that Elizabeth Heddle Traill had eloped with her cousin – I don’t think I found out she was only 16 and died at 21! Sadly I never got to Melsetter.

    • Hi Fiona, I am connected to the same family, but from another part of the world.
      Your grandmother Brenda, was my G G Grandfather’s sister. He was Walter Traill Skae, and he had gone to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), to work in a tea estate, and sadly died very young at age 22 years. He is buried at the Holy Trinity Church in Nuwara Eliya, as church records show. I have connected with Lavinia Vaughan (thanks to DNA testing) and this was confirmed, after some research.
      If you do have more information about his family, I would appreciate it. Lavinia Vaughan has been very helpful and has also given me some information.
      Thank you.

      • Love this information, which I have just stumbled on. I am a cousin of Fiona Lukas, and Brenda Traill Skae was also my grandmother. I wish I had known I had relations in Sri Lanka when we have visited in the past, I would have visited the church in Nuwara Eliya.

  10. I used to visit Hoy as a child and we stayed in the Lodge to Melsetter House. At that time (1960s) the family in the house were Seatters, the farm was run by Groats. Are these families still on Hoy?

    • Yes both families are still on Hoy.

      Melsetter inspired a poem by Yvonne Gray which was set to music by Lawrence Rugg & is performed by Haey Sound choir made up of Hoy residents. Here are the words.

      May Morris of Melsetter
      Yvonne Gray

      Those high gables I remember like so many waves and a courtyard sheltered from the wind and weather of a passing world.
      That green slope on the edge of the great northern seas!
      The air so pure, the light so clear the clutter of the mind fell away.
      Space grew till we felt on breath’s rythmn the patterns of seasons and hours, eternity’s weft gently drawn through the warp of time.
      In the morning we worked outside the Spinning Cottage,
      The courtyard echoed laughter then the closing of a door,
      But with my yarns rooted in this warp beam new tones meld and harmonies grow.
      I still form with a thinking hand.

    • Just wanted to correct Elsie’s surname, which is Seatter. Her nephew, my cousin Richard Groat and his family now live in Melsetter House, surrounded by other relatives.

  11. Hi Mandy Snook,i must be one of your long lost cousins,we are not certain but we believe that three brothers came from Thurso one went to Rhodesia – the other 2 came to Australia. One moved to Victoria Australia and the other to South Australia. We have completed a family tree as much as we can and have a document which relates us to Robert The First The Bruce King of Scotland 1274-1329. It also documents the Moodie Family it is quite a remarkable piece of history. We would be able to forward a copy of this document should you require. My grandfathers name was Alexander George John Moodie his father was Sinclair Moodie –

  12. I am hoping someone will be able to help me identify more about my ancestors and whether my Moodie family were ever connected to the Moodie of Melsetter on Hoy.

    This is what I know of my ancestors. I have managed to traced back to William Moodie born 29 September 1751 in Dunnet, who married Margaret Louitit, born 11 March 1758 in Stromness, Orkney Island.

    My line appears to come down through their son James Moodie born 11 March 1797 in Dunnet who married 15 November 1823 in Olrig to Elizabeth Taylor born 8 December 1797, parents John Taylor & Helen Bain. James Moodie died on the 3 Dec 1876 and his wife Elizabeth died 24 November 1886, both in South Dunn, Watten.

    Children from that Marriage were:
    Son William born 24 July 1825 in Olrig
    Daughter Helen born 8 July 1827 and Christened 20 July 1827 in Olrig
    Son James born 3 July 1831 and Christened 13 July 1831 in Olrig
    Son John born 25 November 1833 and Christened 5 December 1833 in Olrig
    Son Alexander born 22 June 1838 and Christened 4 July 1838 in Olrig
    Daughter Margaret born 8 September 1841 and Christened 3 October 1841 in Watten.

    It would appear the family had moved from Olrig to Watten between 1838 and 1841. I was also told that one of the sons had a daughter Helen named after her great grandmother Helen Bruce but I’ve not found her birth.

    My ancestry line then runs from the fourth son John Moodie born 25 Nov 1833 in Olrig who married on the 13 February 1854 in Watten to Elizabeth Sunderland, born 5 May 1828 in Reay. I am told that John Moodie was a farmer. John died on the 17 April 1909 in Olrig and his wife Elizabeth had died before him on the 1st July 1898.

    I do not know how many children they had but I do know my great grandfather James Moodie was born on the 8 February 1857 in Bradbsterdorran, Bower, Caithness and he married Barbara Sinclair Smith, but I don’t have those details. They had a child Isabella Sinclair Moodie, known as Bella, who was born in 1881, and then in 1882 James Moodie and his infant daughter Isabella arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on the 21/08/1882. I am told his wife Isabella died soon after the birth of their child in 1881. James remarried in Brisbane on 25 December 1889 to Jane Ward McCall, born in Cumberland, UK . James died in Brisbane on the 26 January 1931 aged 73 years.

    I found it interesting to read that Major James Moodie, 9th Laird of Melsetter had an illegitimate son named James Moodie with his partner who was also Elizabeth Taylor, but that son James was killed in action at the attack on Leghorn.

    I would be so grateful to learn more if any other Moodie is connected to the family information I have shared.

    With thanks.

    • Hi Cousin Desley!

      We share ancestry. My great-great-great-grandparents were James Moodie and Elizabeth Taylor. Our great-great-grandfathers were brothers – mine being James, born 1831, yours being John, born 1833.

      My great-grandfather, James Moodie, was your great-grandfather James’ cousin. You said you thought his first wife, Barbara Sinclair Smith, died soon after their daughter, Isabella Sinclair Moodie was born in 1881. Very sadly, Barbara died, at sea, on 5 July 1882, en route to Australia. Cause of death was ‘Heat apoplexy,’ which translates as heatstroke, but may also be related to malaria. Your great-grandfather James Moodie, arrived in Australia, a few weeks later, with Isabella.

      I’ve some more information that may be useful to you, as your information has been for me.

      Kind regards


    • Hi Desley, we share ancestry! I’d tried to post last night but it was lost in moderation.

      Our great-great-grandfathers were brothers – James Moodie (1831-1892) and John Moodie (1833-1909).

      Sadly, your great-grandfather James’ first wife, Barbara Smith, died at sea, en route to Australia, on 5 July 1882. Your great-grandfather arrived in Australia the following month, with daughter Isabella.

      I’ve got some more information on the family and would be more than happy to hear from you.


      • Hi Jeannette.

        Lovely to hear from you and know that we are linked through our great, great grandfathers. I too have gathered a vast collection of ancestral data. Not sure how we can connect to share what we have found so is it appropriate to exchange email addresses.

        Wait to hear back.


  13. My grandfather, James Robertson, was a farmer on the Melsetter Estate in the early 1900’s. His farm was Heathfield, the house (which I call my ancestral home!) is now derelict.
    I still have his rent book, showing the rents he paid to Melsetter.
    Is there anyone who keeps a ‘museum’ of Melsetter effects who may be interested in this?

  14. Hello All, As a postal historian I collect old letters. Yesterday – continuing my COVID19 clean-up! I came across a scruffy old item I had yet to write-up. It had a scarce faint KIRK/WALL cancel (ie in two lines) used between 1769 and 1797 and it was addressed to
    at Mrs Strachan’s,
    Bristo Street
    This early letter is unfortunately missing the correspondence part and as ‘private’ did not have the usual notes written by lawyers or bankers and dates etc. The Edinburgh ‘receiving’ mark is April 25 but at that time no year was used in the cancel. However this particular mark is only recorded from late 1781 AND the the letter was charged at 6d a rate for Kirkwall to Edinburgh only used from late 1784 (Raised from 4d) until January 5th 1897 (Raised to 7d).
    Thus this letter was sent between 1785 and 1796 (which fits nicely with Lavinia’s notes) to “Major?” James Moodie. Probably sent by a family member to James who was travelling.
    Can any of you help narrow further the likely year ie when did he get his military title? or why he was in Edinburgh.
    Bristo Street was just north of the Meadows in the old town, Edinburgh and has been lost during redevelopment. Anyway I can try and find out if anyone has heard of any other correspondence – or knows anything about Mrs Strachan’s boarding house.
    Can send a scan of course if told how! I found this chain while looking for Melsetter.
    However I have no connection to the Moodie family – but thought this might be of interest to you.
    Keep safe
    Willie King, Scottish Postal History Society

  15. My great great grandmother as Sara Maria Johanna Moodie her daughter my grandmother Sarah Maria Cornelia Badenhorst (Moodie). My grandmother married my grandfather Casper Hendrik Badenhorst in Bethlehem in 1877 which is about 70 kms from where I live now. The family had a farm in Golden Gate called Melsetter.

  16. Hi all

    I’ve scanned through the comments and have seen no reference to the South African Moodie link, but please forgive me if this story has already been told. Below is an extract from a piece I’ve written about my ancestors. The Moodie connection starts in the second paragraph.

    The Very Reverend James Green, a doctor of divinity who was ordained as a priest in London in 1844, arrived in Natal in 1848 and was appointed Anglican Dean of Pietermaritzburg in 1849, the same year he started the town’s first Anglican Mission Church – in his garden.

    In 1853 he married Charlotte Mary Moodie. She was born in Grahamstown in 1832. And her parents were both writers of note.

    Her father was Lieutenant Donald Moodie of the Royal Navy, who was born in Orkney, Scotland, in 1794, the son of Major James Moodie, the 9th Laird of Melsetter.

    His brother Captain Benjamin Moodie had led an emigration scheme to the Cape in 1817 and Donald joined him in the colony in 1820.

    Donald Moodie’s list of achievements is considerable. This is from the GENi website:

    1825 – Acting Magistrate at Port Francis on the Kowie River, Eastern Cape.
    1828 – Clerk of the Peace for Albany, and Acting Resident Magistrate of Grahamstown.
    1830 – appointed Protector of Slaves for the Eastern Division of the Cape Colony (position ceased to exist after emancipation of slaves in 1834).
    1834 – employed by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Bejamin D’Urban, to research, translate and transcribe early Dutch records concerning the relationships between the settlers and the indigenous peoples.
    1840 – the government stopped supporting his research and Donald became the Acting President of the government bank in Cape Town.
    1845 – appointed Colonial Secretary to the newly formed Government of Natal (duties also included those of Colonial Treasurer, Registrar of Deeds, and Postmaster).

    “The Record: Or, a Series of Official Papers Relative to the Condition and Treatment of the Native Tribes of South Africa” was published in 1838. It is available online as a PDF and it makes for fascinating reading. Here, for instance, you have the entire journal of Jan van Riebeeck after his arrival at the Cape in 1652 and his ongoing correspondence with the Dutch East India Company. Moodie covers the period from 1649 to 1819, which is an incredibly long stretch of South Africa’s history. He did all the translations from Dutch himself.

  17. My grandfather (Admiral Lionel Victor Wells) and grandmother lived at Melsetter House in the war 1941 – 1944, when he was Admiral Commanding Orkney and Shetland Islands. I don’t know have any details but am visiting Orkney next week. I’m presuming this house is still closed but would love any advice or information about finding out more about my grandfather’s time there.

    • Dear Sue
      I have an original photograph of your grandparents standing in front of Melsetter along with four pet dogs. The photograph was signed by your grandfather; I came across this whilst researching the history of the communication centre on Wee Fea, above Lyness, where he had his HQ from 1943-1944. I’d be delighted to send you a high-definition scan if you so wish. Trusting that you have a good journey to Orkney.
      Dr Ian Collins

    • Hello Sue,
      My dad John Brandon-Jones probably worked for your grandfather, John worked as a navel architect in Orkney all through the war and I think he designed and build lots of wooden huts at Lyness. He also had a sailing boat which he managed to sink at some point. He spent a lot of time researching Melsetter House and became a Lethaby scholar. He wasnt lucky enough to live at the house – he lived in a caravan for six years, he didnt have barracks because he wasn’t in uniform.

      I’m trying to find out who and where he married my mum Helen Moffatt, I think it was near the end of the war definitely on 8 Nov but I don’t know which year. Im going to Orkney in mid June 2021.

      • Good morning Liz
        I have been researching the history of WW2 architectural remains in Hoy and have undertaken a detailed study of the huge Communications Centre on Wee Fea, designed by your father and completed in 1943. It still has a citadel – like presence in the landscape… and a fascinating social history. I would be happy to share some of the material with you if it’s of any interest…. also, I would be interested to know if you have any plans/papers relating to his work in Orkney. The RIBA archive has a collection of his work in general but nothing related to the WW2 period. Kind regards, Ian

        • Hello Ian,
          Thanks for reply, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you – I’m afraid I’m not very good at refunding web sites!
          I don’t have any drawings from dads time in the navy. I can’t imagine that he would have been able to keep records themselves. I’m going to visit Lyness tomorrow 15 June 2021 so be really interesting to see wee fea. I didn’t know which buildings JBJ designed. Let alone which actually survived. I’m sure he mentioned having something to do with the cinema.. I would be so interested to find out more detail from you. Do you live on Orkney? What sparked your interest in Lyness? Thanks again Liz

          • Hi Liz
            Well, it’s quite a long story… I’d be delighted to share my work with you. Perhaps you could get in touch? is the eMail.
            I hope you had an interesting trip to Lyness.
            Kind regards

  18. My late wife’s anchestral line on the moher side entails Mr. Robert Moddy (born 1590 in Scotland. (Norwegian for Moodie or Moody, even Mudie). Robert Moody, related to the Steward Clan of Scotland/the Orkneys, emigrated from the Orkneys and established a considerable fish trade business in the city of Bergen (south/west in Norway) around 1620, and also became a land owner in Troms County (in the northern part of Norway, where he among other properties bought the island of Bjarkøy, where he also was Lensmann (an important official). Fish trade followed the western coastline between north and south in Norway. My wife,s family comes from Foldvik, a small coastal community in Troms, with a rich history on fishing as livelihood. Nearest town was Harstad in Troms, where my late wife’s family also have a considerable amount of existing – and anchestrel members through the times.
    Robert Moodie was married to Johanne Esausdatter (daugher of Esau Jahnsen), named Moddy by the marriage. Their son was named Esau Robertson Moddy. Johanne Esausdatter,s family tree seems mostly connected to Harstad and Foldvik.
    As far as I know from some litterature on emigration from Norway to Scotland and the Orkneys, the name Moody is likely to have its origin in the Norwegian word “modig” – meaning courageous or brave.

    • Hi Arve.
      When I was searching for information about Elsie Seatter, I came over your post. We visited Melsetter House back in 2013 and stayed at The Spinning Cottage for four days. Elsie caught interest for the story about my 7th grandfather, Robert Mudie, which you tell about – very interesting! She drove us around in her car and showed us areas related to the Moodie-family. She also let me read the original version of The Moodie Book. This stay was an adventure we never expected and gave me importent parts of of my second historical thriller. – “The Will – The mystery of Christiane Stewart”.
      I grew up in Foldvik. Later, several of us that share the same lineage have done Y-DNA testing trying to confirm this lineage. We found a man with direct lineage to Robert Mudie. The results proved Scottish origin. Still we have not succeeded solving this relationship, but have done some progress.
      May be there are some sharing the same lineage in Canada?

  19. My interest in Melsetter House is that I believe that the Duke of Kent was there on 10th May 1941, the night Hess flew into Glasgow. Given the various stories surrounding both parties, I am trying to confirm or disprove any connections. Is there by any remote chance a Melsetter visitor book perchance?

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