1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Faeroe

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FAEROE (also written Faroe, or The Faeroes, Danish Faeröerne or Färborne, "the sheep islands"), a group of islands in the North Sea belonging to Denmark. They are situated between Iceland and the Shetland Islands, about 200 m. N.W. of the latter, about the intersection of 7° E. with 62° N. The total land area of the group is 511 sq. m., and there are twentyone islands (excluding smalt rocks and reefs), of which seventeen are inhabited. The population in 1880 amounted to 11,220, and in 1000 to 15,230. The principal islands arc Strömö, on which is the chief town, Thorshavn, with a population of 1656; Osterö, Süderö, Vaagö, Sandö and Bordö. They consist throughout of rocks and hills, separated from each other by narrow valleys or ravines; but, though the hills rise abruptly, there are often on their summits, or at different stages of their ascent, plains of considerable magnitude. Almost everywhere they present to the sea perpendicular cliffs, broken into fantastic forms, affording at every turn, to those who sail along the coast, the most picturesque and varied scenery. The highest hills are Slättaretindur in Osterö, and Kopende and Skellingfjeld in Strömö, which rise respectively to 2804, 2592 and 2520 ft. The sea pierces the islands in deep fjords, or separates them by narrow inlets through which tidal currents set with great violence, at speeds up to seven or eight knots an hour; and, as communications are maintained almost wholly by boat, the natives have need of expert watermanship. There are several lakes in which trout are abundant, and char also occur; the largest is Sorvaag Lake in Vaagö, which is close to the sea, and discharges into it by a sheer fall of about 160 ft. Trees are scarce, and there is evidence that they formerly- flourished where they cannot do so now

The fundamental formation is a series of great sheets of columnar basalt, 70 to 100 ft. thick, in which are intercalated thin beds of tuff. Upon the basalt rests the so-called Coal formation, 35 to 50 ft. thick; the lower part of this is mainly fireclay and sandstone, the upper part is weathered clay with thin layers of brown coat and shale. The coal is found in Sudero and in some of the other islands in sufficient quantity to make it a matter of exploitation. Above these beds there are layers of dolcritc, 15 to 20 ft. thick, with nodular segregations and abundant cavities which arc often lined with zeolites As the rocks lie in a horizontal position, on most of the islands of the group only the basalts or dolcritc are visible. The crater from which the volcanic rocks were outpoured probably lies off the Facroc Bank some distance to the south-west of Süderö. The basalts are submarine flows which formed the basis of the land upon which grew the vegetation which gave rise to the coals; the effusion of dolerite which covered up the Coal formation was subaerial. The existing land features, with the fjords, arc due to ice erosion in the glacial period.[1]

The climate is oceanic; fogs are common, violent storms are frequent at all seasons. July and August are the only true summer months, but the winters are not very severe. It seldom freezes for more than one month, and the harbours are rarely ice-bound. The methods of agriculture are extremely primitive and less than 3 % of the total area is under cultivation. As the plough is ill-suited to the rugged surface of the land, the ground is usually turned up with the spade, care being taken not to destroy the roots of the grass, as hay is the principal crop. Horses and cows are few, and the cows give little milk, in consequence of the coarse hay upon which they are fed. The number of sheep, however, justifies the name of the islands, some individuals having flocks of from three to five hundred, and the total number in the islands considerably exceeds ten thousand. The northern hare (Lepus alpinus) is pretty abundant in Stromo and Ostero, having been introduced into the islands about 1840-1S50. The catching of the numerous sea-birds which build their nests upon the face of the cliffs forms an important source of subsistence to the inhabitants. Sometimes the fowler is let down from the top of the cliff; at other times he climbs the rocks, or, where possible, is pushed upwards by poles made for the purpose. The birds and the contents of the nests are taken in nets mounted on poles; shooting is not practised, lest it should permanently scare the birds away. Fowling has somewhat decreased in modern times, as the fisheries have risen in importance. The puffin is most commonly taken for its feathers. The cod fishery is especially important, dried fish being exported in large quantity, and the swim-bladders made into gelatine, and also used and exported for food. The whaling industry came into importance towards the close of the 19th century, and stations for the extraction of the oil and whalebone have been established at several points, under careful regulations designed to mitigate the pollution of water, the danger to livestock from eating the blubber, &c. The finner whale is the species most commonly taken.

The trade of the Faeroe Islands was for some time a monopoly in the hands of a mercantile house at Copenhagen, and this monopoly was afterwards assumed by the Danish government, but by the law of the 21st of March 1S55 all restrictions were removed. The produce of the whaling and fishing industries, woollen goods, lamb skins and feathers, are the chief exports, while in Thorshavn the preserving of fish and the manufacture of carpets are carried on to some extent. Thorshavn is situated on the S.E. side of Stromö, upon a narrow tongue of land, having creeks on each side, where ships may be safely moored. It is the seat of the chief government and ecclesiastical officials, and has a government house and a hospital. The houses are generally built of wood and roofed with birch bark covered with turf. The character of the people is marked by simplicity of manners, kindness and hospitality. They are healthy, and the population increases steadily. The Faeroes form an ami (county) of Denmark. They have also a local parliament (lathing), consisting of the amtmann and nineteen other members. Among other duties, this body elects a representative to the upper house of parliament (landsthing) in Denmark; the people choose by vote a representative in the lower house (folkething). The islands are included in the Danish bishopric of Zealand.

History.—The early history of the Faeroes is not clear. It appears that about the beginning of the 9th century Grim Karaban, a Norwegian emigrant who had left his country to escape the tyranny of Harold Haarfager, settled in the islands. It is said that a small colony of Irish and Scottish monks were found in Süderö and dispersed by him. The Faeroes then already bore their name of Sheep Islands, as these animals had been found to flourish here exceedingly. Early in the nth century Sigmund or Sigismund Bresterson, whose family had flourished in the southern islands but had been almost exterminated by invaders from the northern, was sent from Norway, whither he had escaped, to take possession of the islands for Olaf Trygvason, king of Norway. He introduced Christianity, and, though he was subsequently murdered, Norwegian supremacy was upheld, and continued till 1386, when the islands were transferred to Denmark. English adventurers gave great trouble to the inhabitants in the 16th century, and the name of Magnus Heineson, a native of Stromo, who was sent by Frederick IL to clear the seas, is still celebrated in many songs and stories. There was formerly a bishopric at Kirkebo, S. of Thorshavn, where remains of the cathedral may be seen; but it was abolished at the introduction of Protestantism by Christian III. Denmark retained possession of the Faeroes at the peace of Kiel in 1815. The native literature of the islands consists of the Faereyinga Saga, dealing with the period of Sigmund Bresterson, and a number of popular songs and legends of early origin.

  1. See Hans von Post, " Om Faroarncs uppkomst," Ceohgiska Fvreningens i Stockholm Forkendlingar, vol. xxiv. (1902).

Bibliography.—Lucas Jacobson Debcs. Feroa Reserata (Copenhagen, 1673; Eng. transl. London, 1675); Torfaeus, De rebus gestis Faereyensium (Copenhagen, 1695); I. Landt, Beskriveise over Fdroerne (1800), and Descriptions of the Feroe Islands (London, 1810); A. J. Symington, Pen and Pencil Sketches of Faroe and Iceland (1862); J. Russcl-Jeaffreson, The Faroe Islands (1901); J. Falk Ronne, Beskrivelse over Fdroerne (Copenhagen, 1902); C. H. Ostenfeld, E. Warming and others, Botany of the Faeroes (Copenhagen, 1901-1903); Annandale, The Faroes and Iceland (Oxford, 1905). The Faereyinea Saga was translated by F. York Powell (London, 1896); for folk-songs and legends see S. Kraeth, Die farouche* Lieder von Sigurd (Paderborn, 1877); V. U. Hammexshaimb, Facroisk Anthologi (Copenhagen, 1886-1891).