Elizabeth "Betty" Mouat lived from 1825 to 6 February 1918. She was a Shetland woman best known for an unplanned solo trip across the North Sea. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Betty Mouat was born in Levenwick in Shetland, the daughter of Thomas Mouat, a whaler. Her father was lost at sea when Betty was six months old and her mother married Thomas Hay, a crofter from Scatness, near Sumburgh in the south of Shetland's Mainland. Betty never married, and after the death of her mother and stepfather she remained in the croft at Scatness as part of the extended family of her half brother, James Hay.
On 30 January 1886, Betty, now sixty years old, set sail from Grutness near Sumburgh bound for Lerwick as the only passenger on board the sailing smack Columbine. Her trip was intended to allow her to sell some of her knitting, and to visit the doctor as she had been unwell. En route a sudden storm blew up and the captain and mate were both washed overboard by a large wave. The mate managed to climb back on board, and then set off with the deckhand, the only other member of crew, in the ship's boat to rescue the captain. They found no trace of him, then realised that the Columbine was being driven away by the storm and could not be reached. The two men were eventually able to make landfall and raise the alarm. A search was mounted for the Columbine, and for its sole occupant Betty Mouat, but after two days it was concluded that both had been lost in the storm.
On 7 February 1886 the Columbine was washed ashore on a beach at Lepsøy, near Ålesund, in Norway. When local villagers arrived on the scene they found Betty Mouat alive and well, after nine days living on a single bottle of milk and some ship's biscuits. Betty was repatriated to Edinburgh, and finally arrived in Lerwick on board the steamer St Clair in late March. She became an immediate celebrity and an appeal for public subscriptions to help her attracted a letter and a donation of £20 from Queen Victoria.
Betty Mouat lived to be 93 and on her death in 1918 was buried at Dunrossness Churchyard. The bay where she came ashore in Norway is now called Columbinebukta or "Columbine Bay": on 17 May 1986 a plaque was unveiled there commemorating the event. The croft in which Betty Mouat spent most of her life has now been extended to become Betty Mouat's Böd, a camping böd close to Sumburgh Airport. Since 1995 the surrounding area has become the focus of intensive archaeological investigation into what is now known as Old Scatness Broch.