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.

Lost Ancestors – Can You Help? Part One

Dear blog reader

This is the first part in what may become a series in which I appeal for your help! I have various ancestors where I have managed to trace their life story so far then ‘lost’ them, often known as a ‘brick wall’ to other people researching their family history.

If anyone manages to find any of these lost ancestors of mine anywhere in the world please do get in touch with me.

Thank you



The Barr family

My great grandmother, Euphemia Barr, came from a slightly fragmented family. Her own mother died in childbirth when Euphemia was only 5, her father remarried when Euphemia was 8 and Euphemia herself died when she was only 35, days after giving birth to my great-aunt. I’ve blogged previously on both Euphemia and my great-aunt, Elizabeth.

I have lost track of 2 of Euphemia’s full-siblings, David Barr and Agnes Lees Barr, David and Agnes were both the children of George Barr and Margaret McIntosh.

This is George Barr and Margaret McIntosh:

George Barr and Margaret McIntosh

David Barr was born on 14 February 1874 at 89 Main Street, Pollokshaws, Scotland where the Barr family had lived latterly (David’s father George was also born in Pollokshaws). In the 1881 census David was 7 and living at 388 Rutherglen Road, Glasgow with his mother and his brother John and sister Agnes. (It took me many years to find this census entry because they are recorded as Blair not Barr in that census return). In the 1891 census David was 17 and a general labourer living at 2 Steads Place, Leith, Edinburgh with his maternal aunt Christina, her husband John McGregor and her five children Allan, Mary, Peter, Donald and Samuel.

The next (and last time) I have found David is in the UK Royal Navy Register of Seaman’s Services on the Ancestry website:

David Barr’s Navy record

This record appears to say that David served with the Navy from 1897 to 1899 then deserted after working on the Pactolus.

My question is, can anyone find David after 1899?

Agnes Lees Barr was born on 2 May 1879 in Stewarton, Ayrshire, Scotland. As per her brother David above, in the 1881 census Agnes was 2 and living at 388 Rutherglen Road, Glasgow with her mother and brothers John and David. In the 1891 census Agnes was 12 and a scholar living at 542 Rutherglen Road, Glasgow with her father, her step-mother Elizabeth Sloan, her sister Euphemia, her brother George and her paternal grandmother Agnes Barr.

In the 1901 census Agnes was 22 and a carpet factory worker living at 510 Govan Street, Glasgow with her father and step-mother, her full-siblings Euphemia and George and her half-siblings Jessie Sharp Barr and William Sloan Barr. On 17 February 1905 Agnes married Peter Campbell, a 24 year old calico printer. They married at 100 McLean Street, Govan (which was both of their addresses) after banns according to the forms of the Church of Scotland and their witnesses were Agnes’ sister Euphemia and Duncan Campbell.

I can find no record of Agnes after her marriage to Peter. Does anyone know where Agnes went to?

The McDonald family

My 4 x great grandparents from the Kintyre peninsula in Argyll, Scotland are Allan McDonald and Mary Ann Cameron. My previous blog posts on my asylum research included Allan as he died in a mariner’s asylum in Greenock.

This is Allan McDonald:

Allan McDonald

I have managed to trace the descendants of the daughters of Allan and Mary Ann quite successfully but I have found very little trace of their son John.

John was born on 12 July 1838 in the parish of Southend, Argyll and was baptised on the 14 July 1838. Records are somewhat sparse for John. I’ve been unable to find any of John’s immediate family in the 1841 census.

In the 1851 census John was a 12 year old clothier’s shop boy living at 52 West Stewart Street, Greenock with his parents and his sister (Mary) Ann, my 3 x great grandmother.

I can find no further records for John. Has anyone seen John?

Sources used: Personal family knowledge, Scotland’s People website for Scottish birth and marriage certificates and Church records and Ancestry website for all other records.

The Life’s Belongings of Elizabeth Gamble

This blog post is about the life’s belongings of my Irish 2 x great grandmother, Elizabeth Gamble, which were in her tenement flat in Glasgow on her death.

Elizabeth Gamble with my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Cadden.

(Often when family history research discovers probate records for an ancestor all that is discovered is the total monetary sum of the belongings that an ancestor has left behind.  We are blessed in my family that the detailed inventory of Elizabeth Gamble’s belongings has survived).

Elizabeth was born on 20 January 1867 at Polintamney near Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland to James Gamble, a farmer, and Martha Adams.

The family farm at Polintamney.

On 24 July 1895 Elizabeth married John Stevens, a Scottish salesman, at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Ballymoney.

1st Presbyterian Church, Ballymoney.

In the 1901 census Elizabeth was living at 8 Rathcool Street, Belfast with her husband, their 2 children and Elizabeth’s sister Jane.

8 Rathcool Street, Belfast.

In the 1911 census Elizabeth was living at Enagh near Ballymoney with her 3 children.

In the mid 1920s Elizabeth emigrated to Glasgow, Scotland with her family – John Stevens had died in Hartwood Asylum in Scotland in 1905 (I’ve blogged previously on John’s final illness).

Elizabeth died at 74 Shakespeare Street, Maryhill, Glasgow on 10 August 1951 from senility and cardiovascular degeneration and is buried in Tollcross cemetery.

74 Shakespeare Street

Elizabeth had a four room tenement flat at 74 Shakespeare Street and I’ve always found it fascinating that we know about her belongings in such detail.  As you will see below, I’ve also been blessed enough to inherit a piece of Elizabeth’s furniture!

Contents of parlour:

Carved oak enclosed sideboard with mirror back
Mahogany inlaid 2-door bureau bookcase
Oak flower pot pedestal
Inlaid walnut oblong table on pillar and claw
Painted wood stool
Spring mattress
Hair mattress
Bed valance
Old bolster
4 oak dining room chairs with loose seats in rexine
[Rexine is an artificial leather fabric: ]
Easy chair in rexine with loose cushion
Mahogany hand chair in American cloth
{American cloth is a glazed or waterproofed cotton cloth: }
Kitchen chair
Bordered Axminster carpet
Linoleum surround
Axminster rug
Copper cased kerb [the kerb would have been used to edge the fireplace hearth]
Copper companion stand
Copper fire screen
Oak overmantel
Blue glass floating bowl
Glass piano castor
Allerton decorated stoneware jug [Charles Allerton & Sons made earthenware and china from 1859 to 1942 at Longton, Lancashire]
Stoneware dish and cover with fruit decoration
Decorated stoneware flower pot
4 tumblers
Antique wineglass
Antique wineglass with white twist stem
Glass cruet
Glass wine bottle
Glass flower tube with metal base
Glass water jug
Glass sugar and cream
Tinted glass wine bottle and 6 small glasses
Blue glass flower vase
8 pieces fruit condiments
Glass biscuit barrel with odd lid
3 small glass bowls
Glass butter
Shell shaped pyrex dish
EP [electro-plated] 4-bottle cruet
2 decorated stoneware teapots
1 decorated stoneware sugar basin and cover
Decorated stoneware sugar and cream
2 small jugs
Decorated stoneware fruit bowl, small
Small decorated china sugar bowl
Invalid’s cup
Allerton stoneware mug
Decorated stoneware teapot stand
Antimony circular box
Decorated stoneware 2-handled trinket tray
Glove box
Small bottle on wood stand
Small green stoneware fern pot
Blue and gilt egg shaped vase centre piece decorated with flowers
Red and gilt Vienna china ewer with figure band
Pair gold cotton and silk window curtains and valance
40 piece yellow, white and gilt china tea set with floral bases
Glass goblet
Antique wine glass
Glass tankard
Glass decanter
4 glass fruit bowls
Glass vase
Glass cake comport [a comport being a small, rimmed plate on a pedestal]
Glass plate
Glass flower tube
Wine glass
3 tumblers
Glass flower bowl
Blue and white stoneware jug
Decorated china plate with pierced rim
Antique lustre jug
Imari fluted bowl [Imari being a type of Japanese porcelain]
21 pieces decorated stoneware dinner ware
8 pieces odd dinner ware and bread plates
Decorated stone ware cake comport
Decorated china cream jug
Old gramophone
Lot old pictures
Axminster rug
Quilted bed mat
Table cover
Wool tea cosy
Huck towel [Huck fabric is a thick, loose, soft cotton or linen toweling woven in a birdseye or honeycomb pattern]
Pillow case
Old blanket
Wicker work basket
2 leather hand bags
Art silk bedspread [Art silk probably means artificial silk]
Pair blue cotton curtains and valance
Pair green cotton curtains and valance
3 window screens

The inlaid walnut oblong table which was in Elizabeth’s parlour and which is also my desk.

Contents of bathroom:

Ewbank carpet sweeper
Wicker corner soiled clothes basket
Enamel basin
Wood wringer board
Wash board
2 GI [galvanised iron] pails
Wicker basket
Linoleum to cover
Old piece runner
Oblong wall mirror in painted frame

Contents of hall:

Oak wardrobe with mirror, door and 3 drawers
Oak hall stand with mirror back
Coal shovel
Lot books
Old Axminster rug
Old GI pail
Enamel basin
Small coal shovel
Sweeping brush
Set steps
9 stainless tea knives
Dessert spoon
Butter fork
Wool blanket
2 small water colours
2 small oil paintings
Turkish towel
Red chenille table cover
Plastic door screen

Contents of kitchen:

Oak utility chest 2 drawers with 2-door undercupboard
Mahogany Pembroke table [A Pembroke table is a drop-leaf table with fine tapering legs ]
Bamboo table
Oak oblong occasional table on 4 turned supports
Decca Electric Wireless Receiver in Walnut case
2 kitchen chairs
Base rocking chair and 2 cushions
Old easy chair in rexine with 2 cushions
Saratoga trunk [a large travelling trunk usually with a rounded top ]
Axminster rug
Linoleum to cover
Metal kerb
Enamel hearth
Fibre trunk
Electric radiator
Chiming clock in inlaid oak case
Stained wood wall rack
Glass flower
Enamel bread tin and cover
2 basin
Bread board
2 trays
2 lacquered trays
Aluminium kettle
Aluminium tea pot
Stoneware toby jug
Bevelled frameless oval mirror
2 wall mirrors in painted frames
White wool blanket
2 Turkish towels
White linen bedspread
Huck towel
Rubber Holland window blind [A Holland blind is perhaps better known as a roller blind nowadays]
Small piece blanketing
Pillow case
Tray cloth
Crochet supper cloth
Pair lace curtains
5 sheets, various
Rubber ring
Quilted bed mat
Paid cotton curtains
Pair screens

My great, great grandmother’s clothes are simply listed as ‘Deceased’s wearing apparel and personal effects and a dark musquash fur coat.’

My mum remembers going to 74 Shakespeare Street a couple of times and we have 2 letters written by Elizabeth Gamble plus letters written by my grandmother from Shakespeare Street as she stayed over with her grandmother.  The above list of belongings helps to add much colour to memories and letters.

A colourised photo of (left to right) Elizabeth Gamble, Elizabeth Cadden (my maternal grandmother) and Sarah Gamble (Elizabeth’s sister).

I also wonder where all these items might have come from – in addition to living in Ballymoney, Belfast and Glasgow, Elizabeth Gamble also rented a house in Rothesay before World War 2.

Elizabeth Gamble probably with one of her grandsons.

The Risks of Visiting a Lighthouse

My direct Hunter line came from the island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde to Arbroath and then to Govan in Glasgow, and one of my current family history sub-projects is finding out more about my Hunter family’s everyday life in Great Cumbrae.

This blog post is about one of the first stories I’ve discovered about the daily life of my Hunter family on Great Cumbrae, the death of my 4 x great uncle Andrew Hunter.

Andrew was born in 1802 (and baptised on 5 May 1802) on Great Cumbrae to Peter Hunter (second mate on the Royal George cutter, the customs ship that sailed out of Millport Bay to catch smuggling vessels in the Firth of Clyde, a subject for another blog post) and Elizabeth McKirdy.

Andrew married Margaret Crawford on Great Cumbrae on 13 August 1827 and they had 5 children. Andrew only appeared in one census, the 1841 census, when he and Margaret and 4 of their children were living in Kames Street, Newton on Great Cumbrae. In 1841 Andrew was working as a joiner.

In 1849 Andrew died when he went to visit a lighthouse on the island of Little Cumbrae.

Little Cumbrae is noted for it’s three lighthouses. The first lighthouse was built by James Ewing at the top of Lighthouse Hill (the highest point on the island) in 1757, which was only the second lighthouse built in the whole of Scotland. The second lighthouse on Little Cumbrae was built in 1793 by Thomas Smith, sited on a beach with a jetty and slipway half a kilometre from the first lighthouse and the second lighthouse was replaced in 1997 by a new tower on the same site.

This is the first lighthouse:

This is the second lighthouse:

Andrew’s accident during his visit to the lighthouse on Little Cumbrae was reported in 4 newspapers the length of the country from Greenock to London which shows the significance the accident must have had to journalists and readers.

The newspapers are slightly unclear on who exactly Andrew visited Little Cumbrae with but it seems that Andrew visited the island with a friend and fellow professional and his friend’s workmen. That is, I suspect that on Saturday 20 October 1849 Andrew had accompanied his friend Mr Wishart, a mason, to the island along with Mr Wishart’s workmen. Mr Wishart had been doing some work on the lighthouse which was to be finished that day. Having finished the work the workmen were having dinner in a room and Andrew Hunter entered the room warning them to get ready to leave quickly as the wind was was beginning to blow hard and he was concerned there would be a heavy gale.

Andrew Hunter then left the room to get the boat ready for departure and Mr Wishart and his workmen followed him shortly afterwards. However when Mr Wishart and his workmen arrived at the boat they couldn’t find Andrew Hunter anywhere and spent some time searching for him. Eventually they pulled the boat a few yards closer to the land and they discovered his body floating under the boat with a severe wound on the forehead. It was believed that, either when Andrew had been trying to reach the boat or when he had been trying to catch hold of the anchor, Andrew’s feet had slipped on the rocks which were very slippery there, he fell on his forehead and was so stunned he couldn’t pull himself out of the water. It is believed Andrew had been in the water for half an hour and he was quite dead when found. My personal conclusion from the description of the incident is that Andrew, Mr Wishart and the workmen were visiting the second lighthouse and that the photo above of that lighthouse shows a little of the immediate scene with the shore, rocks and water where Andrew died..

Andrew Hunter had an amiable and obliging disposition, left a widow and family, who felt his loss severely, and a large group of friends and neighbours, by whom he was much respected and whom at all times he was willing to aid by his advice and exertions.

Sources: Church and census records from the Scotland’s People website, history of Little Cumbrae lighthouses from the Little Cumbrae wikipedia website, photos of the Little Cumbrae lighthouses from the UK Lighthouse Tour website and Greenock Advertiser dated 23 October 1849, Morning Post dated 25 October 1849, Christian News dated 25 October 1849 and London Evening Standard dated 26 October 1849 all from the British Newspaper Archive website:

A Much Loved Great Aunt – Elizabeth Sloan McDade Armour

This blog post is adapted from the eulogy of my much loved great aunt Elizabeth Sloan McDade Webb nee Armour which my Mum and I wrote for her funeral in 2015.

Elizabeth, front right, in characteristic hysterics. Frank Webb on the left.

Elizabeth was born in Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital, Rottenrow, Glasgow in 1917. Sadly her mother died days later but Elizabeth had 2 older brothers William and Francis. A family anecdote is remembered of Elizabeth’s aunt on her father’s side going to visit the mother and baby in hospital, only to be told that Elizabeth’s mother had died and the aunt should prepare to look after the baby.

The remains of Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital.

Elizabeth was brought up between her father and stepmother, William Armour and Elizabeth Welsh (her father remarried in 1919), in Kelvinbridge, Glasgow and her aunt, Elizabeth Mulholland nee Armour in Johnstone, Renfrewshire.

William Armour
Elizabeth Welsh
Elizabeth Armour

Elizabeth got up to many childhood pranks with her brothers. For example, she fell into the River Kelvin and William had to fish her out and she and Francis wandered off to Cowcaddens in order to find the cows which to them seemed very logical! They were found by a Police Constable and were not released to their stepmother until she had paid £1 each for them which was a lot of money in those days.

Elizabeth met her future husband Frank Webb on a blind date at a dance and fell in love with and married Frank contrary to her aunt’s wishes.

The marriage of Frank Webb and Elizabeth Armour.

They married in January 1942 in St Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church in Johnstone and were married for 64 years. There was a coffin in the Church when they married and the priest didn’t know what to do first, the funeral or the wedding! Being January there was snow on the ground when they left the Church. 64 years later, after Frank’s funeral, there was also snow on the ground and Elizabeth told her family this was Frank’s last joke.

St Margaret’s Church, Johnstone

Elizabeth and Frank weren’t blessed with children but Elizabeth had 2 nieces and 4 nephews via her brothers.

After Elizabeth and Frank married they were only together for 2 days before Frank went to the Middle East with the army and Elizabeth continued to live in Johnstone. During this time she proved what a devoted aunt she was by taking fresh eggs to her oldest niece in Kelvinbridge.

Frank was very ill with tuberculosis in Switzerland after the war. When his health improved they moved down to Woodford Green, London. In London they both worked very hard in the civil service before being moved to Edinburgh in the 1970s when they took up residence in Longniddry.

Elizabeth was always very accident prone including falling off a London bus and Frank having to get the fire brigade out when she locked herself in the bathroom in Longniddry. She broke her hip at least 3 times and her wrist at least once.

Examples of their devotions to their nieces are a visit to London for their eldest niece’s fifth birthday and taking their youngest niece on holiday with them to Newport, Wales to meet Elizabeth’s nephews. After they retired they both devoted a lot of time to helping those in need through the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service and the Society of St Vincent De Paul.

After Frank’s death in 2006 Elizabeth’s health failed rapidly and Elizabeth spent five years in Nazareth House, Bonnyrigg where she passed away peacefully in 2015.

Thomas Aird Poet And Journalist

This blog post is about Thomas Aird, the poet and journalist, who was the first cousin of my maternal 4 x great-grandfather James Tullie.

Thomas was born in Bowden, Roxburghshire in August 1802 to James Aird and Isabella Paisley. I’ve been unable to find Thomas in the 1841 census. In the 1851 census Thomas was a newspaper editor living at Irish Street, Dumfries, in 1861 Thomas was still a newspaper editor now living at Mountainhall, Dumfries and in 1871 Thomas was retired and living at Castlebank, Dumfries. Thomas died in April 1876 at Castlebank, Dumfries from Bright’s disease (ie kidney disease), dropsy (ie fluid retention) and diarrhoea and was buried in St Michael’s church-yard in Dumfries. Thomas Aird never married.

This is Thomas:

Thomas Aird

Thomas was initially educated in the parish schools in Bowden and Melrose where his love of books was noticed when he took books to his teachers and when he also started a library of books in Bowden. He wasn’t just a bookworm when young though, he also excelled in all outdoor sports when he was young which he believed brought him ill-health in the form of varicose veins and rheumatic pains when he was older. The parish school teachers recognised Thomas’ potential – he attended Edinburgh University from 1816 and was to live in Edinburgh for nearly twenty years.

In his poetry he looked back on his time around Bowden with great fondness:

‘Oh to be a boy once more,
Curly-headed, sitting singing
Midst a thousand flowerets springing,
In the sunny days of yore,
In the sunny world remote,
With feelings opening in their dew,
And fairy wonders ever new,
And all the budding quicks of thought!
Oh to be a boy, yet be
From all my early follies free!
But were I skilled in prudent lore,
The boy were then a boy no more.’

Thomas’ parents both died at the age of 86 having been married for 60 years and this scene penned by Thomas in ‘Old Bachelor in the Scottish Village’ describes the domestic scene at his father’s home:

‘To see the old men, on a bright evening of the still Sabbath, in their light-blue coats and broad-striped waistcoats, sitting in their southern gardens on the low beds of chamomile, with the Bible in their hands, their old eyes filled with mild seriousness, blent with the sunlight of the sweet summer-tide, is one of the most pleasing pictures of human life. And many a time with profound awe have I seen the peace of their cottages within, and the solemn reverence of old and young, when some grey-haired patriarch has gathered himself up in his bed, and, ere he died, blessed his children.”

During Thomas’ education and afterwards he made many literary friends: whilst tutoring for a family in Crosscleugh, Selkirkshire Thomas met James Hogg ‘The Etrrick Shepherd’, the Scottish poet and novelist, at university Thomas met John Wilson of Elleray, the Scottish advocate, literary critic and author, and Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian, writer and philosopher. and after university Thomas developed friendships with Thomas Penson De Quincey, the English writer, essayist and literary critic, John Gibson Lockhart, the Scottish writer and editor, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the English Anglican priest and ecclesiastical historian, and William Motherwell, the Scottish poet, antiquary and journalist.

Professionally, his relatives tried persuading Thomas to become a Church of Scotland minister but instead Thomas edited newspapers whilst writing and publishing his poetry separately. Thomas edited the Edinburgh Weekly Journal from 1832 to 1833 and then edited the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Herald from 1835 until 1863.

Thomas published poetry and writings are as follows:

1826 – Martzoufle, a tragedy in three acts
1827 – several articles published in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’ and Religious Characteristics published, a series of essays (topics were: Worldly-Mindedness, Indecision, Pride of Intellect, Antipathy, Christian Principles, The Attainment of Christian Principles, Charity of Education Enforced, Need of Earliest Christian Education, Man’s Intellectual Character, Habits of Intellectual and Moral Power, Application of Knowledge and General Instruction, First Points of Christian Discipline, Christian Discipline Continued and General Christian Education – Millennial Hopes)
1830 – Captive of Fez, a long narrative poem in 5 cantos
1840 – A Mother’s Blessing, a dramatic poem
1840 – Outhuriel, and other poems
1845 – Old Bachelor in the Scottish Village, a prose description of Scottish character
1848 – a collated edition of Thomas’s poems
1852 – Thomas edited a memoir of works by his friend David Macbeth Moir
1866 – Summer Scenes

Thereafter Thomas was too ill to publish anything apart from newspaper contributions.

When not writing, Thomas rarely left Dumfries apart from to visit his brother James in Dundee. Thomas spent much time taming and tending to his birds and was a great admirer of Robert Burns and Walter Scott. In 1841 Thomas presided at the annual Burns Club dinner in Dumfries, in 1859 he took an active part in organising the celebration of Burns’ centenary and in 1871 he presided at the banquet in Dumfries commemorating Scott’s centenary.

To finish, I am going to quote the obituary published in the Southern Reporter on Thomas’ death as it gives more of a flavour of the man than a list of poems:

‘The Late Thomas Aird

Fugitive poetry! Alas! the phrase has more senses than one. The poetry disappears like last year’s dead leaves, swept away by autumn winds; and the poets, too, they are as fugitive as their verses. Sibylline leaves borne off into the dust-bin of of oblivion, and the Sibyl herself swept after them. Another of these fugitive verse-makers has passed away, and will soon be forgotten. Thomas Aird, one of the Border Bards, second only to Scott, and worthy to rank with Hogg, Leyden, Allan, Cunningham, and Moir – he too has joined the majority. Aird too, was something more than a mere bard. For thirty years he was man on the press such as any country might be proud of. His conception of the newspaper was high. He used to say of it that the press was the Gospel of God’s daily providence working in man’s world. Such a man deserves a passing memorial from the press, and as such I hasten to lay a chaplet on his grave. He died at Castlebank, near Dumfries where he had retired some twelve years ago to spend his declining years.’

Sources: Census and death records from Scotland’s People website, ‘The Poetical Works of Thomas Aird’ by Reverend Jardine Wallace, Dictionary of National Biography and the Southern Reporter dated 11 May 1876 accessed via the British Newspaper Archive website.