May Moar, lived from 1825 to 2 June 1894. She was a fisherman's wife on the Shetland island of Yell who rescued the crew of a fishing boat in 1858. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Marjory (May) Hectorson was born on the island of Unst. Her father was a fisherman, and May was orphaned while still a baby when he was drowned in 1826. She was raised by relatives on the neighbouring island of Yell, and in 1847 she married a Yell fisherman, David Moar.
On 9 September 1858, May was working on the family croft with two other women when they saw an open fishing boat with four crew capsize, then be blown towards the rocks at the base of a nearby cliff. May found a rope and had herself lowered down the cliff, where she was able to rescue two of the men. The other two stayed with their upturned boat and were eventually rescued by another fishing boat. Letters written by the local church minister resulted in May being awarded medals by the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and the Royal Humane Society.
In 1867, Mary and her family were evicted from their home during the Yell clearances, settling instead at Gutcher on the east coast of the island. On 21 July 1881 a sudden storm overwhelmed much of Yell's fishing fleet off the north coast of the island in what became known as the Gloup Disaster. Fishing was normally carried out from sixerns, open boats rowed by six oarsmen. During the storm, ten sixerns were lost, and 58 men drowned. The Gloup Memorial lists six "Moars" among the dead, including David Moar, May's husband.
After her husband's death, May returned to Unst, living in Baltasound until her death in 1894. The RNLI medal she was awarded later came to light in a ditch on Unst, and is now on display in the Shetland Museum.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".