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Tom Henderson - The Seaman who Founded a Museum

Tom Henderson - The Seaman who Founded a Museum


Tom Henderson - The Seaman who Founded a Museum

Thomas (Tom) Henderson (1911-1982)

Seaman, founder of the Shetland Museum, restorer of artefacts, maritime historian, craftsman, hotelier, Council Convener, writer and the go-to Shetlander throughout the second half of the 20th century on almost any aspect of the islands’ story.

Tom was born and grew up in one of the most charming corners of Shetland at South Scousburgh overlooking the Loch of Spiggie, at the time of the First World War. His family had been prosperous merchants and hoteliers in the 19th century but the business failed when Tom was nine years old.

There then followed the first of two pivotal events in his life, one at home which lifted the threat of penury for him and his parents, and the other off the coast of Sierra Leone during the Second World War, which nearly killed him. These were to dictate the path of his life, giving him the opportunity to develop both his passionate interest in Shetland’s maritime history and his latent literary talent.

They led to his single-handed establishment of the Shetland Museum and the piloting of legislation to protect from plunder the many shipwrecks around Shetland’s shores that dated back to the 16th century and to the writing of many historical papers, including his classic dialect account of a local fishing tragedy, known now as The Night that Mouat was Lost.

Tom spent several years at sea as a young man diligently writing home and leaving posterity with a record of the routine voyages he took on a collier around the British coast in the 1930s. In the 1950s he took the helm of the Zetland County Council through some very difficult years for the local economy when emigration was bleeding Shetland dry of young people and when the survival of some of Shetland’s smaller isles was hanging by a thread.

One might surmise that Tom was a driven man: far from it. He was a man of both gravitas and humour who would put aside whatever he was doing, take out his pipe and share a story with adult or child. In fact, one wonders how he ever found time to achieve all the things he did.

Author: Laughton Johnson

280 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-916-46893-1

Printed in the UK.

Available in paperback only.

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