The Remarkable will of James Inkster

Published: 4th May 2020

The Remarkable will of James Inkster by Alan Beattie

This article originally appeared in Coontin Kin 87, Simmer 2013.

Wills are a useful source for family history. It is a pity that there are so few for Shetlanders, particularly ordinary people, until the later 19th century. Finding that there were some Shetland wills proved in London at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) I decided to investigate further. The majority of the wills are of people from the land-owning class but amongst them are some ordinary Shetlanders, well, fairly ordinary. By far the most remarkable of all the wills is that of James Inkster (1739-1816).  I had never heard of him before I found the will but I am left wanting to know a lot more.

The PCC records are located in the National Archives in Kew, London. The reference for this one is PROB11/1599. [Reference 1]. Images of the PCC wills are available to buy directly from the National Archives [2], at a fee for each will, or through The Genealogist [3], where the images are available to subscribed members. A copy of the two pages for this will are in the Shetland Archives and at the Society premises at 6 Hillhead, Lerwick.

In the will James Inkster gives his own date of birth, names his father and then mentions his siblings. He gives the names of his brothers and what became of them. There are even nephews and nieces mentioned. The original will was handwritten by James Inkster himself and sent to his executors in Britain. It was never witnessed, which indicates that it was sent after his death as he would have had it witnessed first.

Here is a transcript of the whole will.

I James Inkster now residing in Smyrna in Turkey do hereby declare this to be my last Will and Testament as follows. I was born on the twentieth of May 1739 in Norbaster, in the Island of Burra, Shetland, North Britain. My father James Inkster had eight children seven sons and one daughter. My eldest Brother Arthur went to sea and at length died Mate of a Ship in Jamaica. A younger Brother Charles died in Greenland unmarried. John is the oldest brother now living. He has had ten children, seven sons and three daughters. Five of the sons lost their lives on board British Ships of War. Lawrence my Brother next in age after me had two Daughters only. Another brother William died without issue. David my youngest Brother had eight children, fours sons and four daughters. Two of his Sons lost their lives on board of British Ships of War. I therefore bequeath to these my Brothers and their Children or such of them as shall be living at the time of my decease all the property that may belong to me on the close of my life subject however to the number and died proportion which Charles Scott Esquire of 210,280 Wapping London and John Scott Esquire of Sallaway (sic) in Shetland shall determine which two gentlemen I hereby appoint as Trustees to execute the present Will and this shall be their full power to obtain of Messrs Edward Hayes & Company all the Property I am possessed of amounting at the day f this Instrument to  [blank] piastres except a trifling sum in addition which I keep by me for my own immediate use being in the full confidence that when I leave this World these Gentlemen Messrs Hayes & Co will dispose of the same with the concurrence of my before mentioned Trustees for the best advantage of my heirs. Dated this second day of January one thousand and eight hundred and sixteen. James Inkster  -witness

The PCC register then records what came next.

17 December 1817

Appeared Personally Charles James Scott of No 282 Wapping in the County of Middlesex Gentleman and being sworn made Oath that he hath been informed and believes that James Inkster late of Smyrna in Turkey separated this life in the month of December last but whilst living made and duly executed this Will in Writing which is hereto annexed Beginning thus “I James Inkster now residing in Smyrna in Turkey” ending thus “Dated this second day of January One Thousand eight hundred and sixteen” and thus subscribed “James Inkster” and thereof appointed Charles Scott Esquire the father of this Deponent who is since deceased and John Scott Esquire the Executors and that in consequence of the said Will not having witnessed this Deponent hath been endeavouring to find two persons resident in this Kingdom acquainted with the deceased’s handwriting but the deceased having resided several years at Smyrna and his correspondence being much confined he has not been able to find two persons so acquainted with his handwriting or even two persons who were in the habit of corresponding with the said deceased to enable him to obtain the required Affidavit. That this deponent has in his possession Letters from the said deceased which were received by his late father and by comparing the Signature to the said Letters with the Signatures to the said Will he doth verily believe the same to be the Signature and the same person. - C J Scott. Same day the said Charles James Scott was duly sworn to the truth of this Affidavit Before me S Parson Sir -  Pst Jno Wills NotPub

Proved at London 20th December 1817 before the Judge by the Oath of John Scott Esquire the surviving Executor to whom Admon was granted having been first consented having been sworn by commission duly to administer David Inkster the natural and lawful Brother and only next of kin, Robert Inkster, John Inkster, Helen Inkster wife of James Sinclair, Agnes Sinclair wife of Walter Irvine, Ann Inkster wife of James Sclattry and Janet Inkster wife of Arthur Inkster the nephews & nieces and with the said David Inkster only Persons entitled in disposition to the Personal Estate and Effects of the said deceased in case he had died intestate having first served  as by Acts of Court appear.

The family details are amazing. I am not related to the family so to identify people I relied on the database at 6 Hillhead and on Tony Gott’s database which is available on-line [4]. The two are not identical and it is always worth checking both. Neither this James Inkster nor his father appear.

The testator must surely be the James Inkster who was baptised by the Rev. John Hunter at Houss on the 31st May 1739. Father’s name here is James but sadly mother was not named. The witnesses were Robert Sinclair of Houss and Philadelphia Dammahoy his wife. [5]

The will mentions James Inkster junior’s brothers and sisters and a very brief biography to identify each. It is fascinating to see the spread of the world that James and his brothers moved in. Brother Arthur died in Jamaica and Charles in Greenland. The deaths would likely have occurred in the mid-18th century showing how early and wide Shetlanders were already travelling. John, Laurence and David by implication stayed in Burra and married. It is also interesting to note how Shetlanders kept in touch with family despite the miles between them - and all in the days before telephones or even a reliable and cheap postal service. The information about his nephews dying in the navy showed contact with relatives in Burra up to no more than a few years before James Inkster died.

Brothers John and Laurence can be identified in the databases because of the mention of their children in the will. The name John Inkster would not be easy to identify but for the fact that he died about the time the will was written. James mentions brother John as being alive at the time of writing his will in 1816 but John had died before the will was proved in 1817. Amongst the heirs mentioned in the will were John’s children and Laurence’s two daughters.

The databases show that Laurence Inkster was married to Catherine Irvine with daughters Ann and Grizel (Grace), both baptised in 1757. Ann we might assume is the person named in the will as married to James Sclattry (Sclater). There is no mention of Grace who may have died, or there may have been another daughter who is named here.

Agnes Inkster, widow of Walter Irvine, died in Lerwick on the 18th April 1869 [6]. Her parents were named as John Inkster and Jean Williamson, confirming the identification of James’s brother John. On the databases John and Jean have children listed as: James, John, Robert, Arthur, Ellis, William, Charles, and Agnes.

The will states that brother John Inkster had seven sons and three daughters and that five of the sons died in the service of the Royal Navy: this means that Robert and John, who are named as heirs, must have survived. Ellis was a daughter, so one son’s name is unknown. Helen Inkster, wife of James Sinclair and Janet Inkster the wife of Arthur Inkster are unplaced. Presumably one, or both, are daughters of John and Jean. I wonder whether Ellis is a misreading of Ellin - Helen. The original register needs to be checked. Alternatively either may be another daughter of James’s brother Laurence Inkster.

I know something of the sons that were lost in the Royal Navy. When a seaman died his effects - property, wages due etc - were all converted to cash and the money sent to the local Customs House for the next of kin to collect. The Shetland the Customs House was in Lerwick. The money sent is recorded in volumes of Remittances which record the names of the next of kin. These records are part of the admiralty records in the National Archives. There are also musters and pay books of the individual ships which give further detail of the seaman himself.

William Inkster, son of John Inkster of Newton in Burray, was an on HMS Polyphemous [7]. William joined HMS Polyphemous on 2nd June 1794 as an ordinary seaman [8]. He was number 209 on the muster and aged 24 years. There were over 50 Shetland men on the same ship at that time.  The muster records that William died on  23rd February 1795 [9]. The remittance to his father was made later that same year. [7]

Brother David was the youngest of the brothers of James Inkster the testator and still alive in 1817 to receive his inheritance. He cannot as yet be identified on the database. He too lost two sons in the service of the Royal Navy. From the remittance registers I know of two Shetland sailors whose father was David Inkster, Arthur Inkster and Erasmus Inkster. Arthur Inkster is certainly of this family but Erasmus may not be.

Erasmus son of David of Sound, Lerwick was on HMS Blanche [10]. He is number 241 on the ship’s musters which show his name as Erasmus Hinster. [11] He joined the vessel as an ordinary seaman, on the 19th July 1806, aged 23 years, along with sixteen other Shetlanders from the Jane, a tender (support vessel). He is recorded as DD (standing for discharged dead) on the 4th March 1807. [12]. The remittance of the money owing was not made until 1813 [10].

There was a family of Inksters in Sound by Lerwick, and the father’s name was David. The registers of Lerwick show several baptisms of children of this David Inkster between 1779 and 1789 [13] and the Bayanne website [4] records two more children born in the 1790s. These do not seem to be likely as the nephews and nieces of James Inkster as the balance of sons and daughters is wrong when compared to the will. So Erasmus Inkster of HMS Blanche may not be a nephew of James Inkster.

Arthur Inkster son of David Inkster of Burra was on HMS Spartan and the remittance to his father was made in 1813 [10]. The muster shows that Arthur had joined HMS Spartan on the 11th October 1806 as an Ordinary seaman aged 22 years, number 142 on the muster [14]. He was the only one of the above Shetland sailors recorded as having been pressed. Arthur died at sea on 31 January 1809 [15]. The cause of death is not recorded.

Thirteen other Shetlanders joined the Spartan on the same day as Arthur Inkster [14]. Amongst them was John Inkster another ordinary seaman aged 26 years, number 139 on the muster. Could this be Arthur’s brother, the other son of David Inkster? John Inkster was discharged on the 22nd April 1808 to Gibraltar Hospital [15] as he was unwell. There the trail goes cold.

Perhaps those tracing the Inkster family tree in Burra could add to this outline of James Inkster’s family.

The estate the Inkster family inherited was worth less than £1000 but the death duty register shows that £24 0s 4d was paid to the treasury in death duties. [16]

Smyrna (modern Izmir) is a city in the west of Turkey. The area was inhabited from Classical times and the port was one of the major ones of the area. Wikipedia gives a good on-line history of the city [17]. There were many Europeans including Britons living in the Ottoman empire. There was a British chapel in Smyrna and transcripts of the records of births, marriages and deaths appear online. [18]. Mention is made of P. Inkster buried there 17 December 1816 aged 70 years, but this is surely a misreading for J Inkster.

Why was James Inkster in Smyrna? Presumably in trade of some sort. I have not found any references to him on line. I would love to know more so if anyone comes across James Inkster, Shetlander in Smyrna, please let me know.


  1. Will in the National Archives in PROB11/1599 starting on page 219v.
  5. Diary of the Rev. John Hunter, published in the Scottish Antiquarian, 1891, page 97
  6. Death certificate Lerwick 1869.
  7. National Archives: Remittances ADM26/1
  8. National archives: Muster of HMS Polyphemous ADM 36/ 12535
  9. National archives: Muster of HMS Polyphemous ADM 36/ 12536
  10. National archives: Remittances ADM26/10
  11. National archives: Pay book of HMS Blanche ADM35/2145
  12. National archives: Pay book of HMS Blanche ADM35/3338
  13. Checked on line at Family Search:
  14. National archives: Muster of HMS Spartan ADM37/1345
  15. National archives: Muster of HMS Spartan ADM37/1347
  16. National Archives: Death Duty register IR 26/7 13 f.1167