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.

The disappearance of the Lady Combe

This blog post is about my maternal great, great-uncle who was from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland and latterly lived in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire, Scotland and Jamestown, Dunbartonshire, Scotland.

My great, great-uncle George Barr was born in Rutherglen Road, Glasgow in 1885, married Elizabeth Little in 1910 in Jamestown, Dunbartonshire and died at sea in 1927. The censuses have George living in Rutherglen Road, Glasgow in 1891, Govan Street, Glasgow in 1901 and Kildonan Street, Coatbridge in 1911. At the time of his death George was living in Levenbank Terrace, Jamestown.

I had been searching for George’s death for many, many years (I’ve been researching my family history since 1990) and a few years ago I found a likely death record for George Barr in the Scottish Marine Death returns. My genealogy tip in this blog post is therefore to include searching the marine returns when you are looking for your ancestors. This blog post explores the story of the final voyage of the Lady Combe which disappeared in December 1927 resulting in a crew of 18 supposed drowned.

This is George:

George Barr

The Lady Combe was a 500 ton, 350 feet long Clyde-built dredger launched on 30 June 1927 and was built for service at Lagos Harbour in Nigeria.

The dredger sailed from the Lobnitz shipyard at Renfrew on 9 December 1927 for Lagos. The Lady Combe carried enough coal to last for 3 weeks and was meant to take on more coal at Dakar, Senegal so panic started when there was no sign of the Lady Combe after those 3 weeks.

The Lady Combe had departed a few days after a sand suction dredger, Lady Thomson, and a barge. and all 3 had been expected to arrive in Lagos at approximately the same time. The Lady Thomson and the barge safely arrived at Lagos after a very stormy passage but neither spotted the Lady Combe nor did any other vessel.

The crew were: Master Joseph Flett of Stobcross Street, Glasgow, mate J Martin of Mosspark Boulevard, Glasgow, W Butler of Dawsholm Road, Glasgow, John Beadley of Reid Street, Bridgeton, W O’Donnell of Brown Street, Glasgow, J Quinn of Clark Street, Kinning Park, Robert Thomson of Marquis Street, Bidgeton, John McGovern of Newton Terrace, Renfrew, William Carson of Newton Street, Renfrew, D Murray of Muir Street, Renfrew, W Mitchell of London Street, Glasgow, John Veitch of Fulbar Street, Renfrew, Andrew Savage of Castlebank Street, Partick, Andrew Cochrane of Fulbar Street, Renfrew, S Sutherland of Newton Street, Renfrew, Joseph Fleming of Eglinton Lane, Glasgow, George Barr of Levenbank Terrace, Jamestown and Hugh Gillongley of Broomlands, Greenock. My great, great-uncle George Barr was cook and steward on the Lady Combe.

The initial reports in January in the newspapers note that, when the Lady Combe was due to sail from Renfrew, 2 of the crew failed to turn up and 2 unemployed men on the quay were given their jobs, that Captain Flett, originally a Pittenweem man, was one of the best-known sailors on Clydeside and that there had been a mysterious disappearance 25 years before of a dredger on the way from Renfrew to Russia.

In August 1928 there was a further clue reported. Red trousers were washed up on the beach at Rothesay which were identified by the wife of the 3rd engineer, John Veitch. It was therefore believed that the Lady Combe, which at that time was thought to have last been spotted passing Greenock, had foundered in the Firth of Clyde and not on the high seas as previously assumed. The newspapers did admit though that there was a possibility that the trousers had been hung up to to dry after washing and were swept overboard.

In December 1928 the Board of Trade held an enquiry at Glasgow into the disappearance of the Lady Combe at which 3 points of evidence were given, one of which was Mrs Veitch’s evidence of her husband’s trousers. The other evidence was from a director of the ship-builders and from a lighthouse keeper on the Isle of Man.

It was suggested to the ship builders that perhaps the Lady Combe was not stable enough to sail in bad winter weather and that, if the Lady Combe had sailed with her dredger buckets pointing downwards and was fitted with a wireless, both of these alterations may have helped.

A lighthouse keeper at Hickens Rock, Isle of Man stated that he saw the Lady Combe sheltering for 24 hours at the Calf of Man before she headed off in a south-easterly direction and that the gales resumed that night.

The conclusion appears to be that my great, great-uncle George Barr drowned along with his 17 crew mates south of the Isle of Man.

I also have in my possession a job application of George Barr’s dated 1911 detailing his skills and employment history (typed up I believe by either George or my great-grandmother who died in 1917) which I shall share in a future blog post.

Sources used: personal and family knowledge, Scotland’s People website (birth,marriage and death certificates and census records), Fnd My Past website (merchant seaman records), British Newspaper Archive website (Sunday Post 8 January 1928, Westminster Gazette 10 January 1928, The Scotsman 10 January 1928, Port Glasgow Express 11 January 1928, Westminster Gazette 13 January 1928, Leven Advertiser & Wemyss Gazette 14 January 1928, Sheffield Daily Telegraph 5 December 1928 and Dundee Courier 6 December 1928).

My reason for starting family history research.

Dear blog post reader, this blog post explains why I started family history research 31 years ago.

When my grandfather died in 1990 the whole family were quite shocked that his mother, Euphemia Barr, was not buried in the family plot in St Kentigern’s cemetery, Glasgow.

I then made it my goal to find out where Euphemia was buried.

So, the lady herself ….. Euphemia was born in 1882 in Glasgow to George Barr from Pollokshaws and Margaret McIntosh from Dull, Perthshire.

Euphemia went to Oatlands School and then worked in the Scottish Co-Operative Wholesale Society (SCWS) factory in Shieldhall where she met and fell in love with my great-grandfather William Armour.

Euphemia Barr as a teenager/young woman.

However William Armour is still remembered as a ‘lady’s man’ to this day. In 1903 a SCWS colleague Louisa Milne got pregnant by him but died giving birth to his son, James.

In 1914 Euphemia and William married and Euphemia had 3 children in quick succession, William (my grandfather), Frances and Elizabeth. However Euphemia was not strong at the best of times and died in Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital 8 days after giving birth to Elizabeth (Elizabeth was far stronger than her mother and only died 6 years ago).

William Armour senior, Euphemia Barr and William Armour junior.
The remains of Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital.

My great-grandfather remarried in 1919 to his housekeeper, Elizabeth Welsh. Apparently the social pressure was such in Kelvinbridge that they were practically forced to marry!

Anyway, by the time I got this far with my family tree research, an Australian descendant of Euphemia’s brother Jack contacted me and confirmed that Euphemia was buried in the Eastern Necropolis cemetery with many Barr babies who had died tragically young. We now try to take Euphemia flowers twice a year (excluding global pandemics) and we’ve placed a small monument to the Barr family as no headstone exists.

Euphemia Barr’s grave.

Euphemia might have died over a hundred years ago but I’ve inherited a remarkable collection of her possessions.

I have school-books, laundry lists, favourite poems copied out in her best handwriting, 2 boxes of her postcards and letters including letters from her brother Jack pleading with her to emigrate and her brother George’s job application, newspaper clippings re medication, the last surviving piece of china hand-painted by Euphemia and finally and, most poignantly, the last letters Euphemia wrote to my grandfather during her final days of life at Glasgow Royal Maternity Hospital.

Euphemia Barr’s hand-painted china.
Euphemia Barr’s school prize book.
A poem that Euphemia Barr wrote out.

Euphemia might not have survived on this earth for very long but she was a wonderful lady who inspired me to do, so far, 31 years of family history research …..

The Comet Star collides with another boat

This blog post is about my paternal great, great-grandfather who was born in Morayshire in the north-east of Scotland but who lived his whole life in Banffshire in the north-east of Scotland.

My great, great-grandfather George Cowie was born in lodgings in Lossiemouth in 1866, baptised in St Sylvester’s Church in Elgin in 1866 5 days after his birth (perhaps his parents were on their way home to Buckie, I find the different place for his baptism curious), married Mary Cowie (my great, great-grandmother) in 1890 at the Free Church of Scotland in Buckie, died in 1932 at Titness Street, Buckie and is buried in the New Cemetery in Buckpool. The censuses have George living in Cluny Street, Buckie in 1871 and Gordon Street, Buckie from 1881 to 1911.

As with most of my paternal grandmother’s family, George was a fisherman and most of his ancestors were fishermen.

This is George:

George Cowie

A useful tip for fellow family history researchers is to search databases such as digitised newspapers with your ancestor’s address and surname and this is how I discovered the story of George crashing his fishing boat the Comet Star into another stationary fishing boat.

About four o’clock in the afternoon of 3rd August 1908, in clear, good weather, a fishing boat named the Pearl from Lerwick, Shetland was sailing along at a speed of between 2 and 3 knots an hour, when my great, great-grandfather’s boat, the Comet Star, was spotted approaching, under both steam and sail power, at a speed of about 10 knots an hour, ie travelling much faster than the Pearl.

The crew of the Pearl shouted at the crew of the Comet Star to warn them of the danger but regardless the Comet Star crashed into the Pearl and caused such damage that the Pearl sank within 5 minutes.

The joint owners of the stream drifter Comet Star, which was registered in Banff, were George Cowie of 46 Gordon Street, Buckie, my great, great-grandfather, and Alexander Cowie of 68 Seatown, Buckie, with George being master of the boat and Alexander mate. (Cowie is a very common surname in the Buckie area and I have lots of people with the surname Cowie people in my family tree so I’ve yet to work out if George and Alexander were related). The owners of the Pearl were Robert Inkster and Francis Garrioch, both merchants in Scalloway, Shetland. and the Pearl had a crew of seven.

The owners of the Pearl sued for £589 7s 6d each and the crew of the Pearl sued in total for £270 1s 3d to cover their share of the loss of profits, the long time they spent in the water, the shock they suffered from and the value of the loss of their clothing and effects.

George Cowie and Alexander Cowie said that they had a qualified and competent seaman at the wheel, that it wasn’t customary or necessary to have a look-out on drifters and that it wasn’t necessary for the master or mate to be constantly on deck. They denied that the collision was caused by any fault of theirs (I do wonder if this implies they were blaming whoever they had on look-out) and that they lost no time in sending their boat to rescue the crew of the Pearl. They admitted liability for the collision but claimed that the amount they were being sued for was excessive and that legally their liability was limited to £8 per ton ie a total of £477 7s 6d.

George Cowie and Alexander Cowie were sued for a total of £1448 16s 3d, equivalent to approximately £113,250 nowadays.

George Cowie and Alexander Cowie eventually agreed to pay £900 (equivalent to approximately £70,350 nowadays) plus expenses and the case was taken out of court.

There were reports in the newspapers in both January and March of 1909 reflecting 2 sections of the court case brought by the owners of the boat that George Cowie and Alexander Cowie crashed into.

Sources: personal and family knowledge, the Scotland’s People website (birth, marriage and death certificates and censuses), the Find My Past website (George Cowie’s baptism), the British Newspaper Archive website, Aberdeen Press & Journal 14 January 1909, Banffshire Advertiser 18 March 1909, Aberdeen Press & Journal 18 March 1909 The Orkney Herald (which also covered Shetland) 24 March 1909 and the currency converter on The National Archives website.

(For the benefit of anyone else researching families in the fishing communities of the north-east of Scotland, the tee-names or by-names, ie the local nicknames, of my great, great-grandparents were Cowie Pum and Cowie Dosie).