ORKNEY, JAMES, clock and watch maker, merchant, gold- and silversmith, and seigneur; b. 1760 in Scotland; m. 3 July 1790 Jane Hanna, daughter of James G. Hanna*, at Quebec in a Presbyterian service, and they had eight children; d. there 24 Jan. 1832.

It cannot be determined whether James Orkney received his clock and watch maker’s training in his native country or acquired it at Quebec; his links with James G. Hanna, who was himself a clock and watch maker, argue that he could at least have completed his training with him. Whatever the case, an advertisement that Orkney published on 26 July 1787 in the Quebec Gazette is the first indication of his presence and activity in the colony; in it he invited the public to visit his business, located in front of the post office, where he had clocks, gold and silver watches, and a great variety of jewellery for sale.

In 1790 Orkney ran a prosperous business at 13 Rue de la Montagne. Two years later he had a journeyman by the name of François Ucuyer, who presumably helped him make clocks and watches. Orkney’s next-door neighbour at this time was a gold- and silversmith, Louis Robitaille, and two others, Laurent Amiot* and Michel Forton*, lived a few doors away on the same street. As a clock and watch maker, Orkney already knew how to work with metals, and proximity to these men probably had something to do with his becoming interested in the silversmith’s craft.

Orkney was primarily a merchant, whose shop offered a great variety of articles. He carried table silver – mainly flatware – in solid silver or metal plated with silver, as well as wedding rings, brooches, seals, and watches, which he could clean or repair when necessary. He also sold lead pencils, purses, and cut glass. In short, Orkney ran a store in which almost any luxury article could be found, along with articles of everyday use. Like Hanna, he imported movements for grandfather clocks which he fitted into cases made in the colony. He travelled to England twice, probably on business. On 21 May 1812 he came back from Liverpool; four years later he returned from London, landing at Quebec.

In addition to matters connected with his business, Orkney is known to have engaged in a certain number of other transactions. On 21 Jan. 1802, for example, he bought from Marie-Avine de Montigny, Pierre Trottier Desrivières’s widow, half of a lot on Rue Mont-Carmel, as well as the usufruct of the other half; he sold the whole thing to Malcolm Fraser* on 9 Aug. 1806. On 25 Aug. 1808 he rented to Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Baynes for five years a two-storey stone house with outbuildings on Rue des Carrières. On 25 June 1813 he bought a lot at Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (La Pocatière) from silversmith Joseph Sasseville.

Orkney took an interest in the life of the community. In 1791 he joined other Quebec merchants in signing a petition against a bill “respecting Guardians and Curators.” He repeatedly subscribed to the Quebec Fire Society. His name also occasionally appears on letters of appreciation or welcome to governors and distinguished visitors. In 1795 he and six other gold- and silversmiths petitioned to be exempted from a law on forge fires [see Michel Forton]. Two years later, in July 1797, he served on the jury in the trial of David McLane* for high treason. In October 1802 he joined the other Presbyterians in the capital in signing a petition for a site there on which to put up a church.

On 1 Jan. 1818 Orkney gave public notice that he had decided to liquidate his business; he still had a great many articles of all kinds, for instance at least 25 grandfather clocks. After retiring he bought the modest seigneury of Île-aux-Ruaux, near the Île d’Orléans in 1823; he even hired a workman for a little more than nine months to do various jobs on the new property. Orkney died at Quebec on 24 Jan. 1832. Since his wife had predeceased him, in August 1817, he left everything to his son Alexander, who lived with him.

Examples of James Orkney’s work as a watch and clock maker are still held in several private collections and in various museums, particularly the Musée du Québec and the Royal Ontario Museum, both of which own fine grandfather clocks. Unfortunately his production as a gold- and silversmith is little known; there is, however, in the Musée du Québec a rare piece bearing Orkney’s stamp – 10 in a rectangle – alongside Joseph Sasseville’s stamp, a proof that the two artists had worked together.

René Villeneuve

ANQ-M, CN1-121; CN1-134, 9 mai 1817; P-35/10, N-O-32, 28 avril 1808; N-O-33, 31 déc. 1811; N-O-34, 3 juill. 1816. ANQ-Q, CE1-66, 1790–92, 1794, 1798, 1800, 1804, 1806, 1810; CN1-26, 23 août 1808; CN1-49, 25 juin 1813, 25 déc. 1817; CN1-208, 14 mai 1831; CN1-212, 20 sept. 1823; CN1-230, 9 août 1806. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, dossier James Orkney. “Les dénombrements de Québec” (Plessis), ANQ Rapport, 1948–49: 23, 26–27. Le Canadien, 25 janv. 1832. Montreal Gazette, 26 May, 6 Aug. 1817. Quebec Gazette, 26 July 1787; 16 June 1791; 5 Dec. 1793; 13 Feb. 1794; 3 Aug. 1797; 21 March, 18 July 1799; 21 May 1812; 23 May 1816; 1 Jan. 1818; 25 Jan. 1832. “Les Presbytériens à Québec en 1802,” BRH, 42 (1936): 728. Quebec directory, 1790. “Les seigneuries des RR. PP. jésuites,” BRH, 41 (1935): 509.

Cite This Article

René Villeneuve, “ORKNEY, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024, https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/orkney_james_6E.html.

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Permalink:   https://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/orkney_james_6E.html
Author of Article:   René Villeneuve
Title of Article:   ORKNEY, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   July 25, 2024