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Last update: 16th July 2012

James Barnett (1847-1898)

jbarn.jpgJames Barnett was born in 1847 in Kirkwall, the first son of James Barnett and Margaret Wallace. At 19 Barnett married Mary Nicolson, who was from the Island of Shapinsay. Four years later, in 1871, James was appointed Crown Chamberlain for the Bishopric of Orkney, a post which he held until he died aged 50 in 1898 in Kirkwall.

A descendent of James Barnett, Roy Flett, has told me that he was a prolific letter writer and from family letters his two main interests would appear to have been his involvement in the Volunteer Forces of the Orkney Artillery Corps - where he rose to the rank of Major - and his love of music. Barnett is credited with the popular tune Johnnie Steele (attributed to him by James Scott Skinner in his Harp & Claymore Collection), although it is believed that the tune has been developed by many other hands. Alternative names for the tune (given below) are The New Brig o' Dee; Bob Steele; The Miller o' Dervil; Benholm Castle; and The Auld Brig o' Ayr. J Murdoch Henderson, in his book Flowers of Scottish Melody mentioned that another Kirkwall fiddler, Peter Lennie, "is said to have had a hand in framing Barnett's air."


Johnny Steele (The New Brig o' Dee)


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