David West Artist

Dear blog reader

This blog post is about David West, an artist from Lossiemouth, the 5th cousin of my paternal great, great grandfather John Murray.

I was inspired to blog about David West because the Lossiemouth Heritage Association blogged about David recently but unfortunately their sources hadn’t been checked correctly and they managed to combine 2 different artists.

As is my usual family history blogging style, I’ll outline David’s standard family history events, birth, marriage, death and census entries, then I’ll quote David’s extensive newspaper obituary which contains much excellent detail of David’s life.

David was born on 12 November 1868 at Branderburgh, now part of Lossiemouth, to James West, a master mariner, and Margaret Reid. In the 1871 census the West family are split between different households, 2 in King Street and 1 in Smithfield, all Lossiemouth. In the 1881 census David was a scholar living at the Deaniry in Lossiemouth with 3 of his siblings in household headed up by a couple in their 70s, William and Margaret Humphrey.

In the 1891 census David was describing himself as a landscape artist and was visiting a couple, John and Isabella Russell, at Wester Covesea farmhouse near Lossiemouth. In the 1901 census David was living at ‘The Studio’ in Lossiemouth and was describing himself as an artist.

On 15 April 1908 David married Jessie Christie at St Gerardine’s Church, Lossiemouth. I shall look at firstly the official government record as per David and Jessie’s marriage certificate and secondly the newspaper report of their wedding.

On their marriage certificate David gave his occupation as RSW (which stands for the Royal Society of Scottish Painters in Watercolour), was living at Chilkoot, Lossiemouth and at age 38 married 24 year old Jessie Christie who was the daughter of William Christie who was hotel keeper of the hotel in Stotfield (now part of Lossiemouth) that Jessie was living at when she married.

The Aberdeen Press & Journal dated 17 April 1908 gives a more human account of the wedding you might say:

‘An exceedingly pretty wedding was celebrated in St Gerardine’s Church on Wednesday afternoon, the contracting parties being Miss Jessie Christie, second daughter of Mr William Christie, of the Stotfield Hotel, and Mr David West, artist. The Church was beautifully decorated for the occasion. There was a large number of guests and the general public was also well represented. The bride was given away by her father; and her bridesmaids were Miss Coney Christie, sister of the bride, and Miss Gray, a niece of the bridegroom. Mr West was supported by Mr John Peterkin. The marriage ceremony was performed by Rev Norman McLeod, minister of St Gerardine’s, assisted by Rev J W Robertson, High United Free Church, Lossiemouth. The music and hymns were appropriate to the occasion, and Mr Boothroyd, Elgin, presided with much acceptance at the organ. After the ceremony, the guests adjourned to the Stotfield Hotel, where a sumptuous luncheon was served, and the health of the couple heartily pledged. Shortly afterwards, Mr and Mrs West left by motor for the south. A dance was held at the Stotfield Hotel in the evening. Presents to the bride and groom were numerous’.

In the 1911 census David and Jessie were living at Chilkoot in Lossiemouth, with David describing himself as a painter (artist). In the 1921 census David and Jessie were still at Chilkoot, with their two eldest children, Hamish, 7 and a scholar, and Ronald, 2.

David suddenly died on Glasgow in 1936 after having a seizure at an art exhibition. Similar to David and Jessie’s wedding, I’ll look at David’s death certificate first and then David’s extensive newspaper obituary.

David’s death certificate confirms that David West, an artist painter, married to Jessie Christie, died on 8 October 1936 at 152 Bath Street, Glasgow (usual residence Chilkoot, Lossiemouth), parents James West, master mariner, and Margaret Reid with a cause of death of probably natural decay and cardiac failure. I find that cause of death very interesting because David’s unofficial cause of death is a seizure. Possibly the seizure description came from witnesses.

This is David’s gravestone in Lossiemouth cemetery:

David’s obiturary in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, dated 9 October 1936, is incredibly detailed about his life:




Mr David West, Chilkoot, Lossiemouth, the well-known north of Scotland artist and seascape painter died suddenly yesterday morning in Glasgow.

Mr West had a seizure while visiting the Royal Art Exhibition there, where he had several of his works on view. He was sixty eight years of age.


A son of the late Captain James West, Lossiemouth, who was in command of a sailing schooner which plied between the Moray Firth and the Baltic, Mr West had a varied life full of adventure.

He was educated at Lossiemouth and Aberdeen Grammar School, and on leaving school he went to sea in his father’s ships. As a young man he saw a large part of the world.

In 1898 he took part in the memorable Klondyke gold rush.

Always fond of his native Morayshire, he returned to Lossiemouth and set up a studio. His exceptional ability in oil painting was not long in being recognised, and when still in his twenties he had won for himself wide repute as a landscape painter. As a painter of the sea, the sandy wastes and the sky along the Moray Firth coast, and of old sailing boats, he was unsurpassed.


Some of Mr West’s pictures of typical Moray land and seascape scenes have been on view at the Aberdeen Artists’ Society exhibitions and in many parts of the counrty.

Recently the Duchess of Northumberland, while on holiday in Lossiemouth, visited his studo and purchased two typical Moray seascae works.

Morat Firth people resident in foreign parts treasured his pictures.

Some years ago Mr West went to America, and sold a number of his pictures there. Since then Americans visiting this country have sought out his studio to make purchases.

He was on the council of the Royal Scottish Water Colour Society.


During the Great War Mr West served in an ambulance corps.

Keenly interested in the affairs of the community, he took a big share in the public life not only of Lossiemouth, but also in that of the county. His wide experience and knowledge were invaluable in the administration of the town, and during his term of office in Lossiemouth Town Council and Moray Education Authority he was a thoroughly respected member.

A scratch golfer in his youth, Mr West always retained connection with the Moray Golf Club, although latterly he could not take part in active competition.


As a rod and line angler he was a recognised expert, and spent much of time fishing in the rivers Spey and Lossie.

Mr West had been failing in health for some time.

He is a survived by a wife, who is the daughter of the late Provost Christie, Lossiemouth, and two sons, the elder of whom is in the R.A.F. abroad, and the younger is still at Elgin Academy.

Dr J R Levack, Aberdeen, is a cousin.’

Finally, I can’t show you any of David’s paintings here due to copyright but David’s paintings are truly gorgeous. Please just Google ‘David West artist’ in order to admire David’s amazing talent.

Sources: Scotland’s People website for birth, marriage, death and census entries, Find a Grave website for David West’s gravestone and British Newspaper Archive for David West’s obituary.

A Photo Surprise

Hi blog readers.

This blog post is about an amazing surprise during a British Newspaper Archive webinar a few years ago when I suddenly spotted a family photo that I’d seen bits of before but never the whole photo.

This is the photo and story that appeared in ‘The Sketch’ (an illustrated weekly journal) on 28th September 1898:

Five generations of the Murray family.

‘Here is an interesting family of five generations.

The patriarch of the five generations is John Murray, who lives at Jamestown, Buckie, N.B. [North Britain]. He was the first fisherman to discover the use of herring bait for catching white-fish, and, though now in his ninetieth year, continue to enjoy excellent health.

His son, William Murray, is sixty-nine; he follows the vocation of his father at Lossiemouth. Mr John Murray’s granddaughter, Margaret Murray, or Cowie, thirty-eight years of age, resides at Buckie; she, again, has a daughter, Margaret, in her nineteenth year, whose infant son, aged six months, constitutes the fifth generation of this unique family of fisher-folk.’

I will now describe the lives of the five people in the picture above.

John Murray is my paternal 4 x great uncle:

John Murray

John Murray’s baptism record doesn’t appear in the records of any Church though he clearly believed that he was born in 1808, hence the family photo to celebrate his 90th birthday. John Murray and Margaret Geddes, both of Rathven parish, were married on 13th July 1834 in Rathven parish.

In the 1841 census I suspect John was away fishing as there’s an 1841 census entry in Nether Buckie, now known as Buckpool, for Margaret, 24, and their 3 eldest children, Helen, 6, William (in the main photo above), 4 and Peter, 2. In the 1851 census John, 40 and a fisherman, and Margaret, 38, are living in the lane north west of the market in Buckie with their children, Helen, 16, William, 14, Peter, 13, James, 10, Janet, 7, and Margaret, 2.

In the 1861 census, the family are working away from home at Wilkhaven Shore, Tarbat, Ross and Cromarty and we have, together, John, 48, Margaret, 46, Peter, 22, James, 16, Janet, 14, Margaret, 12, Isabella, 10, John, 6, and George, 3, along with 2 domestic servants Betsy Higgerty and James Geddes. John and Peter were working as fishermen. and John (junior) was at school. In the 1871 census, John, 58, was living at Kinneddar Street, Lossiemouth with his wife Margaret, 57, and their children Margaret, 18, Isabella, 16, John, 13, and George, 11. In 1871 John was a fisherman and John, junior, and George were at school.

In the 1881 census John, 69, and Margaret, 68, were still living at Kinneddar Street and John was still a fisherman. In the 1891 census John, 79, and Margaret, 78, were living at 19 Kinneddar Street and John was now a retired fisherman.

In 1900 John died at 9 Blantyre Place, Ianstown, Buckie, aged 91 years, with a cause of death of decay of old age.

The next oldest person in the photo is John’s son, William:

William Murray

Similar to his father, there’s no record of William’s baptism in any Church records. We’ve already seen William in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. William married for the first time, on 28th December 1856, to Isabella Smith, a 20 year old from Portessie. Isabella was a domestic servant, William a fisherman and banns were according to the forms of the Established Church of Scotland. In 1861 William and Isabella were clearly near William’s parents: at Wilkhaven Shore, Tarbat, Ross and Cromarty there’s a household comprising of William, 26, Isabella, 26, their 2 daughters, Margaret, 5 (in the main photo above), Ann, 1, and Isabella Sutherland, a domestic servant. Tragically Isabella died of phthisis pulmonalis (ie tuberculosis) on 8th June 1865 at Buckie.

On 28th September 1866, William re-married to Catherine Thomson (who’s actually also related to me on a different ancestral line) at Branderburgh (now part of Lossiemouth) after banns according to the forms of the Roman Catholic Church. In the 1871 census William and Catherine are living at Kinneddar Street, Lossiemouth with 3 children, one from William’s first marriage. William’s household in 1871 consists of William, 37, Catherine, 37, Margaret, 9, John, 3, and Peter, 1. William was a fisherman and Margaret was at school. In the 1881 census William and Catherine are living at 21 Kinneddar Street, Lossiemouth with 4 of their children: the household was William, 44, Catherine, 42, John, 13, Peter, 11, Mary, 6, and Helen, 4. William was a fisherman, John was recorded as both at school and a fisherman and Peter and Mary were at school.

In the 1891 census William and Catherine were living at 42 Kinneddar Street, Lossiemouth with 2 of their daughters as a household of William, 53, Catherine, 53, Mary, 15, and Helen, 14. William was a fisherman and Mary and Helen were both domestic servants. In the 1901 census William and Catherine were still living at 42 Kinneddar Street with a servant, the household comprising William, 63, Catherine, 63, and Agnes Dowie. In 1911 William was a 75 year old retired fisherman and a widower, living at 42 Kinneddar Street, Lossiemouth with his daughter Helen, 34, his son-in-law Alexander Cambell, 37, and his grandchildren, Jessie, 9, James George, 7, Catherine, 5, and Alex, 5 months. Alexander was a fisherman and Jessie, James and Catherine were at school. William died at 42 Kinneddar Street on 10th March 1913 from apoplexy (probably a stroke).

The next oldest person in the photo is John Murray’s grand-daughter Margaret:

Margaret Murray

Margaret was born on 8 May 1859 in Buckie to William Murray and his first wife Isabella. We’ve already seen Margaret in the 1861 and 1871 censuses. On 27th September 1878 19 year old Margaret married a 20 year old fisherman, Alexander Stewart, at Kinneddar Street, Lossiemouth after banns according to the forms of the Church of Scotland. In the 1881 census Margaret and Alexander were living at 15 James Street, Lossiemouth with this as the household: Alexander, 23, fisherman, Margaret, 21, and Margaret, 6 months (in the main photo above). Tragically Alexander died at sea, off Aberdeen, on the 7th of August 1885. In the 1891 census Margaret was living at 57 Queen Street, Lossiemouth with this household: Margaret, 31, with her daughters Margaret, 10, Isabella, 8, and Alexandrina, 5. Margaret was a grocer and all 3 of her daughters were at school. Margaret re-married on 15th December 1893 at Queen Street, Lossiemouth, after banns according to the forms of the Baptist Church, to a 47 year-old fisherman from Portessie, George Cowie. Margaret was quite the entrepreneur – I guess perhaps she had to be in order to keep her family especially when widowed -when she re-married in 1893 she was a grocery merchant.

In the 1901 census Margaret and George had moved from Lossiemouth and were living at 65 West Church Street, Buckie, with 3 generations as this household: George, 55, Margaret, 41, Margaret (Stewart), 20, Alexandrina (Stewart), 18, Alexander, 6, James (in the main photo above) (Stewart), 3, and Catherine, 6 months. James was Margaret’s grandson and Margaret and Alexandrina were Margaret’s children by her first husband. In the 1911 census Margaret, George and 2 of their children had moved to the west coast to Mallaig (of course another Scottish fishing port) with this as a household: George Cowie, 65, Margaret, 57, Alexander, 16, Catherine, 10, and Amelia Flett, a domestic servant. George and Alexander were fishermen and Catherine was at school.

Margaret died on 24th March 1922 at 35 Ritchie Street, West Kilbride, Ayrshire from apoplexy (a stroke, the same as Margaret’s father William) and hemiplegia ie paralysis (presumably from the stroke).

The next oldest in the photo is John Murray’s great grand-daughter Margaret:

Margaret Stewart

Margaret Stewart was born 27th September 1880 in Lossiemouth. We’ve already seen Margaret in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses. On the 22nd of February 1907 at 67 Oswald Street, Glasgow, 24 year old Margaret married a 20 year old journeyman slater, William Martindale, who was living at Osborn House, Largs. Margaret was living at 222 Elliott Street, Glasgow. This marriage was away from any Church and took place by warrant of the sheriff-substitute of Lanarkshire in front of witnesses Alexandrina Stewart and Mary Elliott. Thus 67 Oswald Street was probably a solicitor’s office. Such a form of marriage usually was due to wanting a quick wedding (often in wartimes there were such marriages via a sherriff’s warrant) or a quiet wedding. We already know that Alexandrina was Margaret’s sister.

In the 1911 census William and Margaret were living at 34 Gateside Street, West Kilbride, the household being: William, 25, Margaret, 29 and their two daughters, Alexandrina, 3, and Margaret, 2. William was a slater and an employer. Margaret died on 20th February 1955 at Silverae, Orchard Street, West Kilbride from a cerebral thrombosis (ie a stroke, similar to the previous 2 generations).

Now to the youngest in the photo, John Murray’s great, great grandson, the baby James:

James Stewart

James Stewart was born on 22nd February 1898 at 65 Church Street, Buckie. James was illegitimate, ie his parents were not married, and his birth certificate has no father’s name. We’ve already seen James in the 1901 census with his mother and grandparents. In the 1911 census James is not with his grandparents or his mother. From then on unfortunately James is a mystery to me. If anyone has James in their family tree please get in touch!

Sources: The photo and article from the British Newspaper Archive website, 1841 to 1901 census entries from the Ancestry website and birth, marriage and death certificates and the 1911 censuses from the Scotland’s People website.

Remembrance Sunday 2022

God bless and rest in peace my 77 brave ancestors who sacrificed their lives for their nation and for us.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Private Joseph Anderson, 21
Rifleman David Steven Bain, 22
Private William Sloan Barr, 20
Lieutenant Grover Cleveland Beaton, 23
Private Roy John Beaton, 26
Trimmer James Bowie, 19
Engineman John Bowie, 29
Shipwright David Chalmers Bruce, 22
Lance Corporal John Bruce, 31
Seaman Alexander Campbell, 21
Private John Campbell, 35
Corporal William Campbell, 27
Engineman William Campbell, 24
Private William Cassie, 20
Electrician Alexander Cormack Christie, 29
Leading Aircraftman Robert George Merson Christie, 23
Sapper George Cormack, 48
Merchant Seaman John William Coull, 20
Sergeant James Cowie, 22
Lance Corporal James Alexander Cowie, 21
Private John Craig, 18
Private Andrew Herbert Creagh, 20
Private Alexander Steven Doull, 30
Chief Engineer Arthur Farquhar Ethell, 31
Warrant Officer Adam Herd Flett, 29
Private David Gray Findlay, 29
Lance Corporal Alexander Gault, 20
Private Duncan Gillespie, 20
Greaser Henry McLean Hill, 36
Private Alexander McLeod Hunter, 27
Private John Hunter, 28
Private William Rooney Hunter, 32
Private Donald Lamont, 24
Private George Main, 22
Private Alexander Mann, 25
Private John Mann, 25
Trooper John James McAuley, 23
Sergeant Samuel Begg McGregor, 32
Rifleman David Michael McIntosh, 25
Private Robert Patrick McIntosh, 33
Lance Corporal Samuel McKail, 22
Captain Gillies McKirdy, 30
Private Robert Craig MacKirdy Miller, 27
Private John Milne, 18
Corporal Robert Milne, 25
Master George Alexander Murray, 54
Petty Officer James Dunn Noble, 38
Private John Slater, 26
Private James V Silver, 20
Private William Cormack Smith, 28
Lieutenant Archibald James Somerville, 25
Private Alexander Stephen, 29
Lance Corporal John Stephen, 21
Private William Stephen, 21
Private James Steven, 22
Sergeant John Stewart, 21
Lieutenant James Lawrence Urquhart, 25
Private Joseph William Valentine, 26
Sapper Alexander Bruce Geddes Walker, 39
Sergeant George Campbell West, 25
Leading Seaman William James Willox, 23
Able Seaman Alexander Wood, 26
Private Alexander Wood, 32
Engine-man James Wood, 20
Private James Wood, 19
Private Thomas Urwin Wood, 21

John Murray and the Buttercup fishing boat

This blog post is about my paternal great, great grandfather and one of his fishing boats, the Buttercup.

John Murray was born on 23 January 1863 at Buckpool, Banffshire, Scotland to James Murray,a fisherman, and Ann Mair. In the 1871 census John was a scholar living at 12 Brae Side, Buckie with his parents and his older siblings, Helen, George, Jean (also called Jane in other records) and Jessie. In the 1881 census John is a fisherman living at Chapel Lane, Buckie with his parents and his sister Jane.

On 9 September 1887 John married Ann Reid at Main Street, Buckpool after banns according to the forms of the Disciples of Christ with James Bowie and Alexander Stewart as witnesses.

This photo of John and his wife Ann is one of my favourite family history photos. I love the contrast between John’s appearance here and how he must have looked when he was working as a fisherman. In this photo John and Ann are with their grandson John Murray. Not all of the colourising facilities on family history websites work brilliantly on all photos but I am quite taken by Ancestry’s coloured version of this photo which I’ll share at the end of this blog post.

John Murray, Ann Reid and John Murray

In the 1891 census John (a fisherman) and Ann were living at 23 Seaview Road, Buckpool (which would then be in our family until the 1980s) with their baby son James (my great grandfather). In the 1901 census John, a fisherman, and Ann were at 23 Seaview Road with their 3 sons, James, William and John. In the 1911 census we have John and Ann at 23 Seaview Road with their 4 sons, James, William, John and George – by this time James and William were fishermen as well as their father still fishing.

This is 23 Seaview Road:

23 Seaview Road, Buckpool

John Murray died on 30 March 1943 when he was aged 80 at 23 Seaview Road from arteriosclerosis and aortic incompetence, ie heart disease. John is buried in the cemetery at Buckpool:

John Murray’s gravestone.

It was John’s obituary in the 8 April 1943 issue of the Aberdeen Weekly Journal that introduced me to his fishing boat the Buttercup (the obituary also refers to the Craigmin fishing boat which I’ve blogged on previously):


‘The death has occurred at 23 Seaview Road, Buckie of Mr John Murray (‘Farmer’), retired fisherman, who was well known and highly respected in the community.

Mr Murray, who was eighty years of age, had several sailboats – his last being Buttercup – and then he and his family built the steam drifter, Craigmin, of which he was skipper. Retiring from the sea about fifteen years ago, Mr Murray took a keen interest in bowling, frequently taking part in games on the public green.

He was predeceased by his wife and is survived by four sons, one of whom is harbourmaster at Buckie.’

I am currently analysing my numerous books of fishing boats built near Buckie for those boats which belonged to my ancestors but it is quite possible to determine details of the launch, working life and eventual fate of the Buttercup from the digitised newspapers.

The Buttercup was launched in 1897:



‘In view of the west coast fishing, several more boats have either been launched or are ready for the water. On Friday Mr George Smith launched the Buttercup BF 1981 for Mr George Murray Farmer.’

(As an aside, the suffix of Farmer is a tee-name. In the fishing communities of Scotland there are relatively few surnames so families are differentiated between using suffices added onto their surnames).



‘The BF (Banff) and INS (Inverness) boats generally have been doing as well as any sailing out of port, for the week ending Friday. The highest catches amongst the BF boats were – (first place) Buttercup 8 3/4 lasts.’



‘After a most successful season the east coast fishing season has come to a close. The total catch at the mainland stations amounts to 670,416 crans, as compared to 453,353 crans last year. FRASERBURGH – the fishing at this port has been the most successful one during the past eight years. The following are a few of the most successful crews fishing from the port this season: (last in the list of 27) Buttercup of Buckie, £440. ‘



‘Seven first-class Zulu fishing boats were exposed for sale by auction in the Masonic Institute on Saturday. There were about 100 fishermen present, but bidding was exceedingly stiff. The only boat to change hands was the Buttercup, BF 1981, which was knocked down to Mr George Flett, Findochty for about £390. An offer of £200 was made for the Lebonan, BF 1715, but was not accepted. Mr Murray, of Thomson, Murray & Co, acted as auctioneer.’



‘The Findochty fishing boat Buttercup (BF 1981), which was wrecked on Friday of last week at the back of Wick harbour, was owned by Messrs George and John Smith and William Ross. The boat was insured in the lately-formed Findochty Insurance Club. The wreck has been sold for £60.’

This is the colourised version of my favourite photo of John and his wife:

John Murray, Ann Reid and John Murray

Sources: birth, marriage and death certificates and census records from the Scotland’s People website, digitised newspapers from the British Newspaper Archive website.

Interview With A Fisherman (My Uncle)

Dear blog reader

A full quarter of my family tree is based within the fishing community of Banffshire and so I am very aware of the tradition history of the Scottish community, both boats moving from As far as the Orkneys and the Shetlands down to the English fishing grounds in the Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft area along with the females of the community following to gut the fish.

However it stopped me in my tracks when I spotted an interview with my 3 x great uncle in the newspaper sharing my ancestral family’s experiences and opinions on the fishing trade.

As an explanatory addition, the suffix Farmer after the surname of Murray is a local tee or by-name. As there are often so few different surnames in Scottish fishing communities different families of the same surname have different tee-names to differentiate themselves. Also, the Buttercup boat mentioned in the article was owned by my great, great grandfather John Murray. Finally, there are places local to Buckie named in the attached interview: Buckie is a big fishing town on the Moray Firth coast and Buckpool and Portessie are smaller areas attached to Buckie.

I do hope you find this as fascinating as I do.





The important place which the English herring fishing now takes in the yearly round of the Scotch and above all the Moray Firth fishermen, has caused more and more public attention to be drawn to and concentrated on that industry within the past year or two. Not that the taking part in the English coast is anything of recent birth in the Scotch fisherman’s almanac, because in a humble and unassuming way the Moray Firth fishermen have been a factor in the Yarmouth fishing for over twenty years now. But it is really only within the past four or five years that the English fishing has come to be the all-engrossing subject in the fishing towns and villages during the months of October, November, and part of December. Prior to the year 1876, that is 25 years ago, the period of the year between the end of the east coast of great summer herring fishing in September and the opening of the west coast fishing in May, the Scotch fishermen looked to the white fishing to provide him with a living. He enjoyed the success that attended the small lines till Christmas, and then used the great lines till the time for preparing for the west coast fishing. At that time the white fish were not so scarce in the adjacent waters as they now are, and the boats were half the size of the present ones. Altogether the industry had not assumed the importance it has done since.

While possessing a fair amount of fishery questions, both local and national, through an extended period of residence among and personal contact with fishermen, still the representative of the ‘Aberdeen Journal’ who was detailed to glean information for this article considered that there were matters of common knowledge to the practical seagoing fisherman which were not likely to come within the purview of a landsman, however long he might have been resident among fishermen. Acting on this conviction, the ‘Journal’ representative successfully cornered a fisherman whom he knew possessed the necessary knowledge and experience, as well as a good measure of all-round common sense to balance his particular qualifications in this respect. This fisherman was Mr George Murray (‘Farmer’) of the Buttercup, BF1981, one of the hardy race of Buckie fishermen. As a full-fledged storm was whistling through the streets at the time, it was advisable to get under cover, and, seated by a comforting fire, the pressman, by means of a series of questions, was able to elicit from Mr Murray the information of which he was in search.

To begin with, Mr Murray recollects that, in 1876, there were three boats from Buckpool and about the same number from Buckie that went to the English fishing for the first time from this part of the coast. At that time the decked boats were beginning to find favour among the fishermen, and they required a decked boat for the south voyage which then took some weeks to accomplish compared with a couple of days in 1901. The boats then made direct for Yarmouth, and did so for many years afterwards, the idea of fishing at Scarborough and Grimsby en route being one which has been put in practice only within the last few years. Three years late (1879) the number of boats leaving Buckpool for Yarmouth was 13, and from Buckie a like number, but still, although the attention to the English fishing was increasing on the part of the Scotch fishermen, that fishing was not what might be called a popular one with the Moray Firth men for several reasons. These were that it was performed at a time of the year when frequent storms might be expected, that the voyage was a long one, that the navigation of English waters not only differs from the conditions which obtain at home, but is more difficult on account of shoal sands, greater sea traffic, and a low-lying coast, generally of a sandy colour, so that, as Mr Murray tersely put it, you could not see it till you were on to it. Mr Murray, however, admitted frankly that the English coast was well lighted, and that in foggy weather the fog signals were kept going.

But a fishing which, practically year in year out, unfailingly spelt success, and could be counted on to average £200 per boat, was not one that would be allowed to slip out of the fishermen’s diary, as fishings such as the Islay fishing have been allowed to do. With the vast increase in the size of the boats and the additional comforts provided in them, as well as the knowledge that comes by experience and tends to breed self-confidence if not contempt, the English fishing has now largely lost its terrors for the moray Firth fishermen, and it may be assumed that with the annual training of the rising generation of fishermen those terrors will never exist as they once existed to their fathers. The Moray Firth fisherman is now ready to go anywhere and everywhere that offers a reasonable prospect of filling his nets with the silvery king of the sea. Season herring fishings, in fact, are growing so numerous – there are five of them already – that they endanger the success of each other to a considerable extent by producing a feeling of restlessness on the part of the fishermen who have been, and are now, rather apt to chase about from one fishing to another on the strength of daily reports of doings at other ports. Very often the best days of a herring season at any particular fishing come at the very end, but by that great time a great part of the fleet has left for some other fishing. The Shetland fishing treads so closely on the west coat or Stornoway fishing as to have this effect, and similarly the Shetland fishing, as in the present year, often extends into the time usually devoted to the east coast fishing, and so on. When one considers that half of one year’s grossing is frequently made in a single night by a boat, it will be seen how important it is to a fisherman to give the fishing grounds all the chances possible, even although they may for many weary days be soured by the disappointing process of hauling in ‘black yarn’, ie empty nets.

Buckie harbour entrance

Half a dozen years ago the number of boats leaving Buckie for the English fishing was about 60, and up to this time Grimsby was unknown as a herring port to the Scotchmen, and Scarborough had not yet been paid attention to. By leaps and bounds, during the past year or two, has the English fishing sprung up, till it occupies the completely absorbing position it does today along the Moray Firth coast. This year there was the most complete desertion of Buckie and the neighbouring coast towns on record. The Cluny and other harbours presented for a couple of months the appearance of ‘harbours to let’, there being only four or five big boats and a dozen to twenty small boats left to prosecute the white fishing from the Cluny Harbour.

The approximate number of boats that left Buckie for the English fishing this season were 30 boats from Buckpool, 50 from Buckie, and 40 from Portessie – a total of 130 large boats of the first class. At the close of the east coast fishing the hired Highlanders are dismissed, and the Moray Firth men proceed to make up crews among themselves for the English fishing. The fisherman, Mr Murray, informs me, who has a good boat in trim for the voyage south does his best to make up a crew. Should he not succeed, he himself just joins a crew being made up for some other boat. This, of course, necessitates many of the boats being laid up on the beach, and in the dividing of the English gold, one share out of the nine which the net proceeds are parted is earned by the boat. The expense for the English fishing amount to about £60; the balance of the grossings is divided into nine shares apportioned one share to each of the seven men who go to form the crew of the boat, one share to the boat, half a share to the cook, who is a boy, and a half share in respect of the steam engine.

As to the conditions under which the Moray Firth fishermen prosecute the English fishing today, I have Mr Murray’s word for it that there is no comparison. In former years the boats were so small that the men could not live steadily in them, so they were compelled to have lodgings ashore. Now all that is changed, and the 80 ft. over all boats are furnished, in many instances, much better than on shipboard. The large cabin aft has about seven feet of headroom; bunks of the most comfortable design are placed all round, and presses for everything are handily arranged. The cooking is the hands of a boy, who does nothing else but attend to the culinary department, and the table is furnished fit for a king – but my readers must not conceive too glorious an impression of a fisherman’s life from such a remark. I mean by it that the standard of living aboard the fishing boat has improved with the other improvements effected, for although the modern fisherman may not at the end of a year be able to show a large or any, balance in £ s d, yet in the very nature of things he goes through and handles a bug lump of cash in the course of a year. Today, therefore, the fishermen live aboard the boats.

The steam engines for hauling purposes,which are an innovation of a few years, and then cost £80, have been enlarged and made more powerful, and they now cost £120 each. Against this expenditure, as I have already stated, one-half share of the earnings is placed.

Buckie harbour.

The English fishing is different from the Scotch fishing in respect that the herring are smaller and harder than the west coast fish. For this reason the Scotchmen prosecute it with old nets. A new net is practically useless, Mr Murray says, because it breaks and destroys the appearance of the fish for market. A net is considered old and fit for the English fishing when it has been four years in use, and these old nets are specially laid past and reserved for the English fishing. The destruction of them at the English fishing is, however, frequently very heavy, but as they are not of great pecuniary value, the loss is not great.

In the opinion of Mr Murray, Yarmouth is by far the most favoured port to conduct fishing operations from in the estimation of the Scotch fishermen, and no fewer than 470 Scotch boats were there in the season just closing. Lowestoft comes next, Grimsby third, and Scarborough a bad fourth on account of its harbour being tidal. The average distance the fleet have to go to the fishing grounds is from 15 to 18 miles off the coast in an easterly direction.

As to grievance, well, with such a large fleet making a sudden descent upon a seaport, it is little wonder if the pinch of deficient harbour accommodation be felt at the English ports. That want probably stands a better chance of remedy in England, as the richer place, than in Scotland. The greatest grievance the Scotch boats have is the system of charging them harbour dues for their registered tonnage. A good deal of correspondence has taken place over this matter, but the official coach lumbers along but slowly. The case in a nutshell is, that the Scotch zulu boats which have a registered tonnage of 40 tons or so pay upon that as against a registered tonnage of 15 tons or so for a steam drifter, one-half larger deduction being made in the case of the latter for engine, etc, space. There is an opinion entertained by some that the zulus could claim exemption for the cabin space at present, but this has not been done, as far as I am aware. The Board of Trade have suggested that the remedy is to put the fishing boats under the Merchant Shipping Act, but that remedy Mr Murray and other fishermen hold is worse than the disease. Indeed one Lossiemouth boat tried it – and repented. Fishermen don’t want the trouble of having to keep a log, carry lifebelts, when they having fishing buoys, carry a small boat, pass Board of Trade examinations for charge of a boat – which some existing skippers could not do – and furnish periodical reports to the Board of Trade.

With the great falling off in the landing of white fish in the winter months, and the increased attention paid to the English fishermen by the Scotch fishermen, it was the most natural thing in the world that the scotch curers would also turn their eyes to where the fleet went. The Scotch curer has, within three years, become an important factor in the English herring market. The Yarmouth curers admit not only this, but that there is a likelihood of the number of Scotch curers increasing. Their importance was indicated at the roup of Yarmouth curing stations last Tuesday, when 66 stances, which three years ago were waste land, fetched nearly £1800 of rent, or £500 above last year’s returns. Scotch curers were mentioned as lessees in the English correspondent’s telegram from almost every fishing town round about the Moray Firth but Buckie, but, I think, the Buckie curers would be there too, for they have been taking their share of what has been going with the others.

A word is also due about the position occupied by Scotch fish salesmen. Finding business also slack at home, the fish selling firms began to send representatives south last year. They ventured as far as Grimsby, but this year they became more ambitious, and invaded Yarmouth itself. So far as I have been able to gather they have met with a success which has quite come up to their expectations. It must be recollected that Scotch fish salesmen do business in the south under manifest disadvantages as compared with their English confreres, but no doubt in years to come they will be able to hold up their end of the plank. The English salesmen send north representatives to canvas the Scotch boats before they set out for the English fishing, and they can offer better inducements to the fishermen than the home salesmen in the way of storage for nets, etc. It is even said that if the Scotch fish salesmen are tn enter into serious competition with the English firms on English ground, the English salesmen will retaliate by competing with the Scotch firms at Scotch ports during the Scotch fishings. But of this I cannot say more.

So as far as the Buckie boats are concerned, not more than two-thirds of them have already returned home, and indeed the people here have no special anxiety to see them home. There is only an average fishing of somewhat over £200 per boat, and as the boats that remained have had heavy shots almost daily, the return of the boats so soon is almost a misfortune. It is, however, considered that the recent storm and the disastrous effects in its wake made the fishermen anxious to square up and get home.

Sources: British Newspaper Archive website and postcards of Buckie in personal possession of Jacqueline Hunter.

My Great Grandmother’s School Prize

Dear blog reader, my maternal great grandmother, Euphemia Brotherston Barr, has been the subject of my blog posts a few times already but I thought I would share some new discoveries with you.

Firstly, back to the basics. Euphemia was born in Rutherglen Road, Glasgow in August 1882 to George Barr and Margaret McIntosh. In the 1891 census George and Margaret were still living in Rutherglen Road with 3 of their children, Agnes, Euphemia and George, and George’s mother, Agnes. Euphemia was recorded as attending school in 1891.

In 1901 the family were living in Govan Street, Glasgow, George with his mother and his second wife Elizabeth and 5 of George’s children, Agnes, Euphemia, George, Jessie and William. Euphemia was recorded as making picture frames in 1901. In 1911 Euphemia was a clerkess and living in Kildonan Street, Coatbridge with her brother George, George’s wife Elizabeth and his son George and George’s in-laws.

In 1914 Euphemia married my great grandfather, William James Armour, in St Charles Chapel, Glasgow and they then had 3 children in quick succession. Euphemia died in Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital in December 1917 a few days after giving birth to her only daughter.

When we cleared out my great aunt’s house in 2015 after her death, I discovered she had found and kept her mother’s school prize, awarded to Euphemia for cookery by Oatlands Public School in 1895:

Euphemia’s school prize.
The reason for the school prize.

I’ve only just got round to reading this book and I’m so glad I did, it’s a wonderful book. 60 short chapters designed to teach a girl how to run a house. All the chapters were fascinating, covering choosing a house, cleaning a house, furnishing a house, nourishment, cooking, washing, choosing clothes, health and disease. I was impressed by how forward thinking the science in the book was.

I was particularly thrilled to notice fingerprints on some of the pages, either my great grandmother’s or my great aunt’s. Though some of the chapters had clearly never been read before……..

I then decided to do the obvious and see what records survive for Euphemia’s education at Oatlands Public School. I approached the wonderful Glasgow City Archives and they forwarded a copy of Euphemia’s school admission record within a few days of my request.

They confirmed Euphemia was admitted to Oatlands Public School on 7 January 1889 and left on 26 June 1896 to start work. Euphemia had previously attended Wolsley Street School but records haven’t survived for that school.

Left hand side headings of the admission record.
Right hand side headings of the admission record.
Left hand side of Euphemia’s admission record.
Right hand side of Euphemia’s admission record.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the education of my precious great grandmother Euphemia:

Euphemia Barr

Sources: birth, marriage and death certificates and census entries from Scotland’s People website, Euphemia Barr’s school prize book in personal possession of Jacqueline Hunter and Oatlands Public School records from Glasgow City Archives.

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.

Smith at the Crosslee Mill

This blog post is about my maternal 4 x great grandfather, John Barr, and what happened to his place of employment, the Crosslee Mill.

John Barr was born on 20 January 1791 in Shettleston, Glasgow to James Barr and Agnes Cummin and John was baptised 3 days later in Barony parish. James, a coal hewer, had married Agnes in 1787 also in Barony.

John married Agnes Lees in an irregular marriage on 28 March 1808 in Paisley. A regular marriage was a couple marrying in Church by a minister after banns had been read for 3 consecutive Sundays. An irregular marriage was also known as a marriage of declaration because the couple simply made a declaration in front of two witnesses.

John Barr and Agnes Lees had 11 children together and the description of John’s occupation in each of these baptisms tells us a lot. We know from these baptisms that from 1809 until 1815 John was in the 71st regiment, latterly a sergeant, and from 1817 to 1835 John was a smith at Crosslee mill in Renfrewshire. Crosslee mill has a rather chequered history which I shall cover in the latter half of this blog post.

71st Highlanders at Vimerio in 1808.

The 71st Regiment had 2 battalions whilst John was with them, the 1st serving abroad in numerous campaigns and the 2nd at home. I suspect John was in the 2nd battalion as he had numerous children in the west of Scotland whilst serving with the 71st although I’m currently unable to prove that theory. I’ve searched for mention of John in the army records on The National Archive website and the Find My Past website but have been unable to find a candidate to match John. I’ve commissioned the experts at the Royal Highland Fusiliers museum (which is the most recent regiment coming down from the 71st) to see if they can find any of John’s records for me.

John does appear in one census with his family. In 1841 John was living at School Wynd in Barony parish with his wife and children: John was 50 and a machine mechanic journeyman (journeyman being the stage above apprentice), Agnes was also 50 and four of their children were living with them: Robert aged 15, a machine mechanic apprentice (following his father), David was 14 and a cotton weaver, George was 12 with no occupation noted and Agnes was 20 and a cotton weaver. George would eventually also enlist, served with the Royal Canadian Rifle Regiment and would meet and marry his wife Mary Anne Marchant in Lincoln, Ontario in 1861.

John died between 1841 and 1851. In the 1851 census Agnes is living in Pollockshaws, she’s a widow and a pirn winder (a pirn being a yarn package inserted into a shuttle) living with her daughter Agnes, now a bobbin winder, and her son David, now a labourer.

The rest of this blog post I shall devote to Crosslee Mill to which John devoted at least 18 years of his working life.

Crosslee Mill was a cotton mill which originally opened in 1793. During it’s heyday it employed 300 people in a six storey building and was the largest mill on the River Gryfe. The mill burnt down in 1858 and was replaced by a factory which again was itself replaced by a concrete structure in the 1920s. From the 1920s until 1985 when it was demolished it was owned by Nobel Explosives/ICI and then TH Lawsson trading as Lawtex who manufactured umbrellas. Nowadays there is one remaining mill building which has been redeveloped as office space.

The destruction of the mill, which John would have known, in 1858 was extremely dramatic and was reported in almost 40 UK newspapers.

I shall share the report of the destruction of John’s former place of employment directly from the Thursday 29 July 1858 edition of the Northern Daily Times as it had the most detailed account of all the newspapers:


On Sunday afternoon, about two o’clock, the large cotton-spinning mill at Crosslee, about six miles west from Paisley, was discovered to be on fire.

The mill was six storeys in height, and one of the largest in this country. When the fire was first observed the flames were bursting from some of the windows of the third flat. An express was instantly despatched to Johnstone and Paisley for the fire engines from these places, which were sent off without delay, but before either of them arrived the fire had completely gutted the centre flats, including the floors and joisting, and the weight of the machinery in the upper flats had brought down the walls – the front wall falling outwards, and the back wall falling inwards, carrying the roof along with them, and the whole was an undistinguishable mass of flaming ruins.

Nothing, therefore, could be done to save the main building, but a detached building comprising the picking room and store, was preserved from the devastating element. The engine-house and its contents were likewise saved. The fire continued to burn all afternoon and all Saturday night, and was watched from various points about Paisley with much interest till a late hour, and it was not fully extinguished on Monday afternoon.

The mill, machinery, and cotton destroyed, is altogether estimated at about £60,000, but the proprietors are insured, we are told, in three different offices. The catastrophe will throw upwards of 500 people idle, for whom there is no other employment in the district. Indeed, in that respect, it may be regarded as a terrible calamity. The proprietors are Messrs William Stevenson and Sons, a well known and highly respectable firm; and it is much feared that the mill may not be rebuilt.

Sources: Church records and census records on the Scotland’s People website, National Army Museum website, ‘Paisley – Oor Wee Toun & Environs’ Facebook page, British Newspaper Archive website.

My Connection to the Evangeline Tragedy

The sinking of the Evangeline fishing boat in 1905 is quite well known in the Banffshire area of Scotland due to the number of families that it affected and this blog post is the story of my connection to the Evangeline tragedy.


My paternal 4 x great uncle, John Mair, had a son Alexander Mair who tragically had two members of his family drown when the Evangeline sank, his son Alexander (married to Barbara Ann Mason) and his son-in-law John Wood (who was married to Alexander senior’s daughter Helen).

I shall explore below the lives of Alexander and Barbara and Helen and John and I shall then look at the sinking of the Evangeline.

Alexander was born on 25 September 1866 in the fishing village of Portknockie to Alexander Mair, a fisherman, and Georgina Mair, Alexander and Georgina having married in Portknockie in 1853. You will notice that Georgina’s maiden surname was the same as her husband’s. This is not at all unusual in the Scottish fishing communities where there are often limited surnames and tee or by names are attached as a suffix to the surname to aid in differentiating families. Alexander was a member of the Mair Shavie family.

In the 1871 census Alexander was living at house number 134 in Portknockie with both of his parents and his siblings John, Jean, Elspet, Ann and James. Thanks to the excellent map produced by the Cullen, Deskford and Portknockie Heritage Group I know that 1 Pulteney Street is the modern address equivalent for the family’s home in 1871. I’ve been unable to find Alexander in the 1881 or 1891 censuses, he was probably away fishing.

On 14 September 1894 at the Seafield Church of Scotland Church in Portknockie Alexander, a fisherman, married Barbara Ann Mason, a 20 year old domestic servant also living in Portknockie, the witnesses being William Mair and James Mair. In the 1901 census Alexander and Barbara were living at house number 261 (now known as 22 Church Street) in Portknockie with Alexander’s father Alexander and Alexander and Barbara’s 3 children Georgina, Barbara and Helen.

I shall now turn to Alexander’s sister Helen. Helen was born on 17 September 1873 in Portknockie. I’ve been unable to fond Helen in the 1881 or 1891 censuses as yet – I suspect the family was fragmenting as Alexander senior’s wife Georgina died in 1875, 2 years after Helen’s birth.

On 28 November 1895 at the Seafield Church of Scotland Church in Portknockie Helen, a fisher girl, that is someone who traveled up and down Scotland and England gutting fish, married John Wood King (King being John’s tee/by name), a 23 year-old fisherman who also lived in Portknockie. The witnesses were William Mair and James Mair (possibly the exact same two men who had stood witness at Alexander’s wedding the year before but the surname Mair is so common in Portknockie who really knows). I’ve been unable to find a suitable entry for Helen and John in the 1901 census.

Now I shall turn to the Evangeline:

The Evangeline

The Evangeline was built in 1896 by George Innes & Co of Portknockie to the Zulu design named after the Zulu wars in southern Africa. The Zulu design was repeated many times and had a reputation as excellent fishing boats. The Evangeline had been built for David Wood King who had sailed from Wick, Caithness on Friday 13 January 1905 heading for the Orkney fishing grounds. The wind reached hurricane strength before dawn on Saturday and other boats which had sailed from Wick at the same time headed for the safety of the Fair Isle. Not the Evangeline unfortunately, it sank off Stronsay, Orkney, with the loss of 8 lives. This photo shows the crew of the Evangeline in 1904, the year before the Evangeline floundered:

The crew of the Evangeline in 1904.

7 of the crew were from Portknockie with one man from the nearby town of Cullen. The Portknockie men who drowned were David Wood King (the owner of the boat), John Wood King (David’s nephew and married to Helen Mair Shavie as discussed above), Alexander Mair Shavie (as discussed above), James Mair Shanker, William Mair Shanker, Joseph Mair Bobbin and Alexander Mair Bobbin. The Cullen man was George Findlay Hooker – George was only on the Evangeline because David Wood had had an argument with his step-son Alexander Mair Saucy who would normally have been a member of the crew on the Evangeline.

(It is not always known why families have the tee-names they do but I have recently discovered that Alexander Mair Saucy’s family had a different tee-name from their relations due to historic cheekiness).

In the photo above, the only men who have been named are the owner David Wood, back row second from right, and Alexander Mair Saucy, front row middle. Alexander Mair Saucy not being on the Evangeline when she sank, all the other men in the photo drowned when the Evangeline sank.

I shall now turn to a local newspaper, the Banffshire Reporter, for the details of the sad recovery to Portknockie of the bodies of 5 of the crew once they had washed ashore in Orkney on Tuesday 17 January.

The bodies of 5 of the crew of the Evangeline arrived back at Portknockie very early on Friday 20 January.

Around 10pm on the Thursday evening around 60 Portknockie fisherman, who been based at Stornoway, returned home to Portknockie by train to pay their respects to their colleagues. The steam drifter Blue Bell had gone from Stornoway to Stronsay with a large number of fishermen on board to assist another Portknockie steam drifter, the Trident, to bring home the bodies.

At half past eleven at night hundreds of local people were lining the cliffs waiting for the Blue Bell and the Trident to come in with the Trident arriving first at five past midnight on a moonlit night. The Trident was burning flares as she went so she could be seen without having to sound her horn on such a solemn occasion. There was a great crowd at the jetty to meet the Trident and nobody spoke above a whisper as the bodies of Alexander Mair Bobbin and William Mair Shanker were lifted out of the hold in temporary coffins shrouded in black. (There had been a number of boats in difficulty at the same time with some issues in identifying exactly which boats needed help but some could be identified easily unfortunately – William Mair had his initials WM tattooed on his hands and could thus be recognised when his body was recovered).

Fifteen minutes later the Blue Bell arrived and berthed alongside the Trident so that the coffins containing the bodies of David Wood King, John Wood King and George Findlay Hooker were lifted up onto the quay.

Four fishermen shouldered each coffin and the five bodies were walked up the steep path 200 feet from the harbour to the village with large amounts of mourners behind each coffin and the top of the hill being lined by two lines of weeping women.

Each coffin was carried to the family home of each fisherman with a special party carrying George Findlay home to his family in Cullen.

The body of Alexander Mair was recovered from the sea by a Hull trawler, the Mercury, and Alexander was buried in Orkney rather than being brought home. James Mair was also buried in Orkney.

The body of Joseph Mair was never recovered from the sea.

The widows of the ancestors of mine on board the Evangeline made different choices. Barbara Ann Masson, Alexander’s widow, stayed in Portknockie and died there in 1945. Helen Mair, John’s widow, emigrated to Canada in 1920 and died in Toronto in 1941.

Sources: birth, marriage and death certificates and census entries from the Scotland’s People website, ‘A Portknockie Tragedy’ written by John Crawford and the Banffshire Reporter dated Wednesday 25 January 1905 from the British Newspaper Archive website.

Captain John McKirdy

Dear blog reader,

I have many, many ancestors who worked on the sea but I only have one ancestor who was the captain of a record breaking ship.

John McKirdy was the second cousin of my paternal 6 x great grandfather, James McKirdy.  John was born in Rothesay, Bute, Scotland on 18th August 1815 to Lieutenant Robert McKirdy of the Royal Navy and Janet Gillies. John was baptised on the 7th of September 1815. (I shall hopefully blog separately in the future on Robert McKirdy’s naval career).  I’ve been unable to find John in the 1841 census, he wasn’t with his parents and his brother Robert in Bridge Street, Rothesay in the 1841 census.  John was probably at sea.

This is John:

John McKirdy

On the 14th of February 1842, at Rothesay, John McKirdy, of the East India Company’s Service, married Mary Gilchrist, daughter of the late Captain James Gilchrist.  Again, in the 1851 census, there is no sign of John with his family, I suspect John is again away at sea.  In 1851 Mary was living at 9 Argyle Street, Rothesay with her children Robert, James, Mary and John.  In the 1861 census, John was at home!  John, a 45 year old ship master in the merchant service, was living at 25 Battery Place, Rothesay with his wife Mary and 5 of his children, Mary, John, Janet, Archibald and Annabella.

Unfortunately John died the next year, on 3rd July 1862 at 25 Battery Place, Rothesay, a master in the merchant service, from a diseased right lung and dropsy (also known as fluid retention).

John is buried in Rothesay cemetery, a grave my Mum and I visited in person several years ago.

This is John’s grave:

John McKirdy’s grave

What I find particularly fascinating about John’s career is the ship he commanded from 1855 to 1859, the Champion of the Seas:

The Champion of the Seas

The Champion of the Seas was the second largest clipper ship and was built to take emigrants from Liverpool to Melbourne. She was built by Donald McKay for James Baines of the Black Ball line. She was launched on 19th April 1854 and abandoned on 3rd April 1877 off Cape Horn due to leaks.

The Champion of the Seas weighed 2,447 tonnes, was 252 feet long, had a beam of 45 feet 6 inches, a hold 29 feet deep and 5,230 square metres of sails.

She’s best known for setting a record for the fastest day’s run in 24 hours, a record she held until 1984: from noon 10th December 1854 to noon 11th December 1854, under the command of Captain Alexander Newlands, she achieved 465 nautical miles.

The wonderful Trove website, an Australian collaborative website, holds, for free, digitised newspapers, government gazettes, maps, magazines, newsletters, books, pictures and much more. Included in this amazing collection is a reproduction of issues of the onboard weekly newsletter of the Champion of the Seas, the Champion of the Seas Times, for one of the voyages that John McKirdy commanded, from Monday 16th July 1855 to Monday 24th September 1855 . Each issue contained a captain’s report, a doctor’s report, reports on education, extracts from the ship’s log, puzzles, notes of any onboard births, marriages or deaths plus various serialised stories and articles.

I always believe that we learn most about our ancestors from their own words, so the remainder of this blog post will consist of John’s reports to his passengers over that time period.

July 16th, 1855. Dear Sirs. Subjoined is a tabular statement of our progress since leaving Liverpool, together with barometrical and other observations which will doubtless prove interesting to many of the passengers. It may be as well to fill it up each week, so that at the termination of the voyage it will form a continuous abstract. I am sorry our progress hitherto has not been so rapid as could be desired, but we are highly favoured in having such beautiful weather, which so much tends to heighten the enjoyment of our journey. The island of Madeira has been full in view since daylight this morning, and I hope, in a day or two, to have the north east trade winds, which at this season ought to be pretty fresh to carry us at least to 10° north latitude. I am glad to find the medical report is so favourable . Trusting it may continue so, and that nothing may occur to interrupt the harmony which I am pleased to observe prevails amongst all on board. John McKirdy, Commander.

July 23rd, 1855. Dear Sirs. Since my last report, our progress has not been so rapid as I could wish, but the extremely beautiful weather with which we have been favoured, atones in some degree for our loss of time. During the early part of the week, we passed Palma, and Ferro, two of the Canary Isles, belonging to Spain, and producing wine in abundance. We are now opposite the Cape de Verde group, consisting of ten principal, and some smaller islands. They extend from 14° to 17° north latitude, and from 22° 30′ to 25° 30′ west longitude. They are mostly high, some of them having sheltered bays and tolerable anchorage. At St Vincent, there is a coal depot, for the Cape and Australian steamers.  These islands have not much trade, in consequence of their prevailing barrenness.  We now enjoy a good breeze, which I hope may last a few days, and make amends for lost time. I would wish to convey a notice to the passengers through the medium of your columns, namely, to caution them against giving spirits to the crew of the ship. I am sorry to say something of this kind occurred last night, which exposes the men to punishment, and militates against the good order and discipline of the vessel. This hint will, I trust, be sufficient, as the safety of ship and passengers are involved in this matter. I am happy to notice the tolerably healthy state of the passengers. The hot weather, no doubt, may cause a few complaints, which have been unimportant hitherto. The continued good will, which still prevails amongst us, is a source also of much pleasure. Trusting it may remain with us to the end. John McKirdy, Commander.

July 30th, 1855. In reporting progress this week I am rather at a loss, inasmuch as we have not had observations for the last three days to determine our whereabouts, but considering the district of the globe we are in at present, we may be thankful for the winds we have had, and the tolerable progress as shown by the log. I imagine now that we are very near the SE trade winds, and I hope in another week to be able to report more favourably. We are now in the region of the equatorial rains and calms, the atmosphere dense and close, and singularly oppressive before the heavy showers. This cloudling, as it is called, is the great receiver of the ceaseless volumes of heated air loaded to saturation with vapour brought from the north and the south by the trade winds, when they become condensed on the lower side of the cloud stratum, and deluge this part of the sea at this season of the year with rain. I hope we shall all keep in good health throughout this gloomy region, and we shall soon feel our spirits revive on entering the SE trade winds. I beg to apologise for not filling up the abstract of this week, but our writing table is so wet that it is impossible to write it out; our estimated distance, run for the week to Sunday at noon, is 750 miles. Wishing yourself and your numerous readers good health for this week. John McKirdy, Commander.

August 6th, 1855. Dear Sir. Since my last report, I am sorry to say that we have made extremely little progress. Since Sunday week the winds have been uniformly and steadily against us, and it is not to be wondered, that under such adverse circumstances, in connection with a lee current, that our good ship has not advanced much further since your last issue. The wind this morning, thank God, shows a symptom of change for the better. I sincerely hope that it may last, as really our patience gets almost exhausted at continued ill fortune. I am glad that the health of the ship is still tolerably good, notwithstanding the very warm weather we have had. Hoping next week I will be able to present a more encouraging report. John McKirdy, Commander.

August 13th, 1855. Dear Sir. Our progress for the week is not such as I anticipated at your last issue of the Times. On Monday last the breeze was just beginning to blow so favourably that I expected a good week’s run, and to be considerably advanced on our journey by this time; but unfortunately, the wind hangs so much to the south-east, it is impossible to sail in a direct line. We have come quite across (since last week) from the African shore, and we are now within seventy miles of the coast of Brazil. The weather is very delightful, and I am happy to observe those of our number who were suffering from sickness, once more about the deck. I am in hopes that the wind will change shortly, and that we may pursue our journey without further delay. John McKirdy, Commander.

August 20th, 1855. Dear Sir. Our anticipations of progress in the past week have again been frustrated – calms and light winds still impeding our course. Our week’s run, up to yesterday at noon, was but 660 miles in a straight line, whereas the usual week’s sailing in the trade winds should be at least 1,500. The breeze is better this morning, I am glad to say, and notwithstanding the heavy head swell, we are making good progress. I only trust that it may last, and that our hopes may not be disappointed in the coming week. However, from the telegraph signals yesterday received, I am glad to find we are not worse off than our neighbours. Hoping for a good time coming. John McKirdy, Commander.

August 27th, 1855. Dear Sir. As is not unusual on Monday mornings, our prospects are brightening up, and we are now sailing with a favourable breeze at the rate of thirteen knots an hour. It is rather singular that our winds should always be better on the particular morning that the Times is issued; it may be that they wish to be favourably reported of in that widely circulated journal, to give intending emigrants a good opinion of them – in which case I would beg to suggest that the Times should be published daily instead of weekly, that our prospects might be always improving instead of waiting a week for a favourable change. We are within a day’s sail of Trista d’Acunha a small island which, during Napoleon’s imprisonment at St Helena, was occupied by an English force, in the withdrawal of which, three men volunteered to remain (a corporal and two seamen of the squadron), from whom have sprung the present colony, increased occasionally by whaling seamen tired of their voyage. The population two years ago was eighty five. The climate is healthy, the land in the valleys very productive, and the settlers employ themselves in the capture of seals which they barter with whales; the island is 8,000 feet high, and may be seen forty miles in clear weather. John McKirdy, Commander.

September 3rd, 1855. Dear Sir. I am happy to have the pleasure of informing you, that our progress during the past week was favourable; up to yesterday, at noon, our week’s run was 1,865 miles – a very decided improvement over our usual progress. I hope now that we may carry good winds with us to our destination. We are in the region where strong westerly winds generally prevail at this season of the year, and although accompanied by a little rolling, we must try and put up with the inconvenience, for the sake of the greater speed attained, and the consequent advance made towards the completion of our voyage. I am glad to find this morning that every one has been enjoying a good night’s rest, which has been so desirable after our late tossing. John McKirdy, Commander.

September 10th, 1855. Dear Sir. I am happy again to have the pleasure of reporting favourably of our week’s progress; the distance run up to yesterday at noon was 1,600 miles. We have now got into steady winds, which I hope will not desert us again. The weather is rather cold to be comfortable, but we must try and bear it for a few days, and in the course of a week we shall be turning to the north again, and will soon feel the genial influences of the Australian climate. We are today about 3,500 miles from Cape Otway, a distance which could easily be performed in a fortnight, and with good winds I hope to be near our journey’s end by that time. I am glad to find that the cold weather has not had any serious effect on the health of the passengers, and I sincerely trust that our reports in respect may still continue to be favourable, and that we may all arrive in comfort and good health is the earnest wish of John McKirdy, Commander.

September 17th, 1855. Dear Sir. I am happy to have to state that the week’s run has again been favourable, the distance made being 1,730 miles. I find that in trying her speed, the Champion of the Seas does not sale so fast as she did on her last voyage to Australia, but the fact of our carrying out this time about 2,000 tons of cargo, and being four feet deeper in the water than she has hitherto been, may fully account for her diminished speed; as it is however we have made a greater run this week than she has ever done before, viz – 1,865 miles, the greatest distance in one week last voyage was one mile less, 1,864. In the early part of the week we passed the Island of Desolation, so named by Captain Cook for its barren and inhospitable appearance, and during the week we have passed great quantities of seaweed, showing evidently that the current is setting eastward and consequently in our favour, the breeze still keeps good, and I hope the next number of your journal will contain the pleasing intelligence of the promised land being in sight. I am glad the health of the passengers generally still continues good, although the weather is rather cold to be comfortable,  and those who cannot take exercise on deck must be at a loss to keep themselves warm. Some gentlemen have resorted to the plan of sleeping all the morning. The idea is not a bad one provided they can afford to lose their breakfast. John McKirdy, Commander.

September 24th, 1855. Dear Sir. Our progress this week has again been favourable; the distance to yesterday at noon was 1,947 miles, and leaves about one day’s good sail from Cape Otway. The weather, however, I am sorry to say, has changed since, and the wind has now got round to the north-east quarter, which is very unfavourable for us, and may delay us a day or two more than we anticipated. As this may be the last number of the Times issued on board, will you allow me to convey to the passengers generally my sincere thanks for their uniform good conduct and peaceful behaviour while on board the Champion of the Seas. There are evils inseparable from emigrant ships and long passages, which I do not pretend to have escaped in this ship. But I will say that the voyage has passed over (with the blessing of almighty God) with a measure of peace, good will, and orderly propriety, which, for myself, I feel I cannot be sufficiently thankful. We are shortly about to separate, and I sincerely wish each and all of you success and prosperity in the country of your adoption – may your utmost wishes be realised, and may you find Australia in reality the land of promise. John McKirdy, Commander.

Sources used: Scotland’s People website for Church records, census records and death certificates, Ancestry website and Trove website.