James Robertson, housepainter, fish auctioneer and student, was born in Brough, South Nesting, in 1873, son of Thomas Murray Robertson and Grace Pottinger. His father became a pilot, and the family moved to the North Ness in Lerwick. Robertson went to work for Peter Martin, a housepainter and decorator; in 1893 he went to Edinburgh to become an apprentice compositor. He and his cousin James Pottinger, living in lodgings together, became enthusiastic adherents of the Social Democratic Federation, and when Robertson returned to Lerwick he became an active socialist. He was a campaigning member of Lerwick School Board, and in 1901 stood unsuccessfully as a socialist candidate for the Town Council.
In 1899 Robertson became a fish salesman and auctioneer, at a time when the herring industry was reaching its height. Soon afterwards he called an open-air meeting at Freefield to form a Shetland Fishermen’s Association, and in 1904 flung himself into a campaign against whaling stations in Shetland, which, he and others reckoned, were ruining the herring fishery. In 1907 he travelled at his own expense to give evidence to a government enquiry on the subject in County Donegal.
By that time Robertson had enrolled as a student of medicine at Edinburgh University. While there he was on the editorial committee of the student journal, played the fiddle at social events, and formed an association to defeat Winston Churchill at the rectorial election. Soon afterwards, however, he contracted tuberculosis, and had to do his written exams in bed. He graduated, and looked forward to a brilliant medical career; but died in a sanatorium in Banchory on 29 January 1911.