The island woman hailed a hero after surviving alone at sea on milk and two biscuits

Lepsya in Norway, where Betty Mouat washed up after her eight days lost at sea. PIC: Creative Commons.
Lepsya in Norway, where Betty Mouat washed up after her eight days lost at sea. PIC: Creative Commons.
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For eight days, she survived at sea alone on a bottle of milk and two biscuits.

Betty Mouat, from Sumburgh, Shetland, was sailing to Lerwick to sell her knitwear but was cast adrift on the seas when a storm whipped up and knocked the captain, James Jamieson, into the water.

Sumburgh in Shetland, where Betty Mouat lived alone and made her living from knitting. PIC: Creative Commons.

Sumburgh in Shetland, where Betty Mouat lived alone and made her living from knitting. PIC: Creative Commons.

When the two crew launched a rescue boat to save their colleague, they too disappeared into the swell in January 1886.

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Betty, 59, was the only passenger left on board the Columbine as it headed off on its aimless voyage across the water.

It was not until Betty, who was slightly paralysed and walked with a limp due to an earlier illness, raised her head from below deck that the scale of the disaster unfolded, and the reality of her solo mission dawned upon her.

As she headed towards Norway, the boat skimmed reefs and rocks and navigated the treacherous straits as Betty, who had no sailing experience, sat tight with her biscuits and milk.

Eight days later, she washed up on a beach known as Colombinebukta in Lepsøya, Norway, with the sands later named after the drifting vessel on which she arrived.

Her rescue by local men was 'practically remarkable', according to newspaper reports.

The incredible voyage brought celebrity status for Betty, with newspaper headlines published around the world of the humble knitter who survived the perilous crossing.

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Queen Victoria was so touched by the story she requested a cheque for £20 be sent from Windsor Castle to Betty's croft near Sumburgh, according to an account by Samuel Wilson of Historic Environment Scotland.

A report in the Greenock Telegraph in March 1886 tells of God-fearing Betty's new found celebrity status with 1,500 people gathering at Lerwick Harbour to welcome her home.

A crowd of Shetlanders living in Edinburgh had even gathered at the docks at Leith in anticipation that she might land there.

But as she sailed back to Lerwick, slightly quiet but not unwell, her new hero status was secured.

The report said: "At the close of the six most eventful weeks of her history, Betty Mouat is sitting in her ingle-neuk that cottage home Shetland, which will, in coming years should she spared, attract many tourist desirous of shaking hands with the heroine.

"Six weeks ago nobody beyond her immediate vicinity had beard so much her name; now it has travelled to the farthest confines of the civilised world.

"It is comparatively little to say that the fifteen hundred people who crowded down the waterside Kirkwall the other day; and who rent the air with their cheers when she came ashore, were welcoming one who is now and will henceforth be, as long as she lives, the most celebrated parsonage in the Shetland Isles.

"She has secured place in history."

Betty continued work as knitter and died in February 1918.