Plasterer dies in fall from scaffolding

This blog post is about my paternal 1st cousin 4 x removed, Robert Hume, and his tragic death. Robert was the 1st cousin of my paternal great, great-grandfather John Murray.

Robert Hume was born about 1836 in Buckie to William Hume, a slater, and Jane Murray. In the 1841 census, William, still a slater, was living in Buckpool with his wife Jane, and their children William, Helen, Robert and Jane. In the 1851 census William, still a slater, was living in Crooked Lane, Buckie with Jane and their expanded family: William, now also a slater, Helen, Robert, at school, Jane, at school, Alexander, at school, Grace, at school, Margaret, John and Isabella.

On 26th January 1860 at Blackhills, Elgin, after banns according to the forms of the Free Church of Scotland, Robert Hume, a journeyman plasterer, married Mary Cumming, a 24 year old house maid, living at Blackhills, Elgin. The clergyman was James Morrison, minister at Urquhart, and the witnesses were John Calder and John Geddes. (Journeyman is the stage after apprentice).

In the 1871 census Robert, a plasterer, and Mary were living at 13 The Square, Buckie with their daughter Margaret Jane. In the 1881 census Robert, still a plasterer, Mary and Margaret were recorded as living near the Square in Buckie.

In the 1891 census Robert, still plastering, and Mary were living at 63 West Church Street, Buckie with daughters Susan and Mary and a visiting English evangelist, William Hurte. In the 1901 census, Robert, still a plasterer, and Mary were living at 61 West Church Street with their daughter Mary and Robert’s sister-in-law Jane.

The truly amazing Moray Council’s Local Heritage Centre (which is a favourite family history source of mine as 25% of my family tree appears in their resources) confirms that Robert was quite some local businessman. It highlights almost 50 of Robert Hume’s business contracts that it has found mentioned in local newspapers, mostly work on domestic houses but also work on shops, Churches, business premises, schools, local institutions and even a fishmarket. However it was unfortunately one of those contracts with a Church that was to lead to Robert’s death.

I shall let the newspapers explain the shock of Robert’s death and then the recommendations as a result of Robert’s fall.


Robert Hume (74), plasterer, Buckie, died today from the result of injuries sustained in an accident yesterday afternoon. He was employed finishing the walls of the new Baptist Church, when the scaffolding gave way, and he fell to the floor, a distance of 14 feet, fracturing the base of his skull.

Another workman, Alexander Bruce, saved himself by clinging to one of the upright poles.

Hume had been in business in Buckie for over half a century.

The outside of Buckie Baptist Church
The inside of Buckie Baptist Church, where Robert fell to his death.


Yesterday, in Banff Sheriff Court – before Sheriff Laing and a jury – public inquiry was made regarding the circumstances connected with the two fatal accidents which happened recently.

The first was regarding the death of Mr Robert Hume, plasterer, Cliff Terrace, Buckie. Evidence was given by Alexander Grant, joiner, and Alexander Bruce, both of whom were engaged at work near Mr Hume when the accident occurred, and Mr John Hume, a brother of the deceased.

The circumstances of the accident have already been reported. The evidence at the enquiry was directed chiefly with a view to ascertain what exactly was the nature of the scaffolding erected at the building where the accident occurred.

It appeared that the scaffolding, which was fourteen feet from the ground, consisted of three uprights, one at each end and one in the middle. On these were placed three planks, the total breadth being about 3 ft 6 ins. It was erected under the supervision of Mr Hume himself. When the accident occurred deceased was standing about three feet from the middle bracket. This bracket gave way at the back owing to the nails slipping through the wood, and, tilting, threw off a plank.

With this Mr Hume fell, and then another plank slipped down. As the result of the fall deceased sustained a fracture of the base of the skull, and died from the injuries in twelve hours’ time. The bracket which caused the collapse of the scaffold was produced in court. The Sheriff remarked, regarding it, that it seemed to be an extremely weak piece of wood and quite inadequate to support a couple of men on a scaffold. Of the various witnesses who had knowledge of the erection of scaffolds inquiry was made as to whether they could suggest any precautionary means that might be adopted to avoid the occurrence of such an accident in future, and the Sheriff suggested to the jury that if they saw fit a rider to this effect might be added to their verdict.

A formal verdict was returned to the effect that Mr Hume on 21st September, while engaged in the course of his employment as a plasterer, fell from a scaffold fourteen feet in height or thereby to the floor of the building, which led to a fracture of the skull, and that death was the result of injuries sustained in the said accident. They added to this a rider addressed to master plasterers and all those engaged in the erection of such scaffolding advising them that the cross planks of the scaffold should, in addition to being nailed to the uprights, also be roped to them.

(The other case heard that day was the death of a farmer, James Cowie of Muiryfold, Grange who caught his hand in farm machinery and subsequently died from blood poisoning).

Robert is buried in Rathven graveyard.

Sources: marriage and death certificates and census entries from the Scotland’s People website, Moray Council Local Heritage website, Scottish Church Heritage Research website and British Newspaper Archive website.

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