Donald Adamson

Dreaming in black and white

An Ordinary Scottish Family: 16 Victorian Lives

This page contains links to around thirty stories about my great-great-grandparents. They are not my stories, but come from my four grandparents. They are their stories about their grandparents. If they are not wholly accurate then it is because I have carried them in my head for nearly fifty years. In addition, what is a story without some embellishment? My grandparents belonged to an era in Scotland when radio, television and the modern media had not yet submerged the age-old habit of story-telling. I have fictionalised the stories, but then buttressed each with modern research, including the scanning in of supporting documents. It is for you to decide what is real and what is not.

(A) Introduction

They start with a one page introduction, and a couple of small family trees which show who these people were in relation to my parents. If you just want the stories, then feel free to jump this section.

pdf Introduction and Family Trees

(B) The Adamsons

The first group of six stories concern John McLaren Adamson (1808-1869) and his wife Jean Bell (1822-1905). John was first a coal miner in Fife, then a Royal Marine for 23 years, serving all round the world (1833-1856), and then again a Scottish coal miner. Jean Bell was a farm servant before marriage, and then a washer-woman when widowed. The stories were told to me by grandmother because my grandfather, also John McLaren Adamson (1886-1962) died when I was only five. These were his grandparents. However, she was a world-class story-teller, and although somewhat embellished in the telling, they turned out to have the essence of truth when I researched the facts forty years later.

The stories are as follows:

1. A scandal at Torryburn: a birth “begot in fornication”. How a respectable married woman, and wife of one of Nelson’s petty officers had a child whilst he was was absent at sea for years, but succeeded in getting the baby baptised. (1811)

2. The last British fleet action under sail: the bombardment of Acre. The never ending role of British forces in counter-insurgency situations, and their exposure to anti-personel  devices. (1840)

3. A Scots wedding in a public house that still stands: how a Royal Marine, constantly at sea, manged to meet a local girl from Dunfermline. (1846)

4. The role of a Fife lad in suppressing the African Slave Trade, and how it earned him enough to get married. (1849)

5. A land fit for heroes? Dying of bronchitis in a Shettleston tenement (1869)

6.The end of wash-days. How an old Dunfermline washer-woman saw out her last years in rural Halbeath (1897)

pdf (a) John McLaren Adamson and Jean Bell

(Stories 1,2 and3)

pdf (b) John McLaren Adamson and Jean Bell

(Stories 4,5 and6)

(C) The Hunters

The next group of four stories concern James Hunter (1834-1910) and Margaret Petrie (1832-1913). James was a farm servant, shepherd and game-keeper.  He was born in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire. He worked for farms and estates in that county and the adjacent West Fife. For the last twenty-five years of his life he worked for the Wallace family at Halbeath outside Dunfermline. Margaret worked as a domestic servant before marriage. Once again the source of these stories was my grandmother, rather than my grandfather. She knew the Hunters well, especially as her widowed mother-in-law, Christina or Kirsty Adamson nee Hunter (James and Margaret’s oldest daughter) lived with her and her huband and family between 1930 and 1939 in Halbeath.

The stories are as follows:

1. Death on the Gleneagles Estate: Alexander Hunter aged 14 — son of James and Margaret — a case of acute meningitis. (1872)

2. The Accident at the Derby Pit, Wellwood, Dunfermline involving William Hunter — the brother of James. (1884)

3. An early outside photograph of the game-keeper with gun and dogs.  Touches on the Highland Brigade in the Boer War. (1900)

4. The emigration of the surviving son, James Hunter, (1869-1924), to Queensland, Australia with family. (1911)

pdf James Hunter and Margaret Petrie

(D) The Hoggans

Here are three stories concerning the Hoggans, and in particular Matthew Hay Hoggan (1819-1889) and his wife Elizabeth Paton (1825-1868). He was a coal miner, and a descendant of a coal mining family. They had been cutting coal since at least the 17th century. His father Robert Hoggan had moved to Denny from Bo’ness just before 1800 and married the miller’s daughter, at Drysler Bank, Jean Horn. Around 1700 the Hoggans had moved from Dunfermline to Bo’ness , where a Hoggan is recorded in the Minutes of Dunfermline Burgh as having been the foreman on the coal workings of the burgh muir around 1670.  The family were pit sinkers — meaning that they sunk new coal mines and often had a financial interest in the workings and associated houses. They were however working miners and not coal owners. He married Elizabeth Paton, from a family who were near neighbours of his elder brother David in Hollandbush, near Denny. Her early death at the age of 43 was particularly hard on her younger children, including my great-grandfather, David, who was only five when she died. Matthew re-married a widow, Margaret Gray, who also had nine children. They had two further children jointly. This gave rise to the family riddle “How can a couple have eleven children each, and there still be only twenty children?”

The stories are as follows:

1. How Matt met Liz: life in the mining rows of Stirlingshire. (1841)

2. Sinking pits in the new coalfield around Slamannan: concerns the death of Samuel Duffy, a young Irishman in  Drumclair Colliery. (1854)

3. A meeting at Drumbowie Colliery regarding the running away of David and James Hoggan from their father and step-mother. They had gone to live with their elder brother, a pit engine-man, at a nearby colliery. (1871)

pdf Matthew Hay Hoggan and Elizabeth Paton

(E) The Wilsons

These are two stories concerning my grandmother’s maternal grandparents, Robert Wilson (1841-1910) and his wife Janet Brown (1845-1915). Robert was the son of a Linlithgow joiner, and became a coal miner just over the Stirlingshire border at Muiravonside where he was born. Janet was born in Falkirk.

The stories are:

1. A birth and a death: in February and March 1886 Robert had a granddaughter, Agnes, and then lost his father, Henry Wilson. These two events happened in his cottage at Cairniemount, Muiravonside. He registered the birth and the death on the same day, the 12th March 1886. He and Janet brought up the baby, Agnes, as their own. This  allowed their daughter Elizabeth to marry Ralph Dickson in due course. (1886)

2. The move to Muir Cottage: this is a solid stone building at the back of the Loan village, Muiravonside. It remained in the family for many years. (1895)

pdf Robert Wilson and Janet Brown

(F) The Thomsons

These three stories relate to my grandfather Thomson’s paternal line. The Thomsons came from Dumfriesshire where James Thomson’s (1824-1887) family had a shop in Torthorwald. His wife, Agnes (Nancy) Carruthers (1827-1910) came from a farming background in the same area. They came to Edinburgh after marriage when James got a job as one of the  Earl of Rosebery’s of coachmen at Dalmeny House. In later life he was both an ostler in St Andrews and an Edinburgh horse-drawn cabbie. The story of the broken engagement and violent assault came from my grandfather’s sister, Laura, who like him lived well into her eighties. Grandfather “Pop” Thomson lived with my father and mother and me for the last twelve years of his life. I hope to tell some of his tales of the First World War at a later date.

The stories comprise:

1. The Earl’s coachman: the Earl’s grandson and heir would become prime-minister in the 1890s and also own two Derby winners. (1859)

2. The Homecoming: which concerns a broken engagement, a violent response and a flight overseas (1877)

3. Life in the Leith Links “Colonies”: the old age of Agnes Carruthers.

pdf James Thomson and Agnes Carruthers

(G) The Jermans

The Jermans were Welsh, and the only ones among my 16 great-great-grandparents not to be resident in Scotland. It was their daughter, Sarah, who came to Edinburgh. Thomas Jacks Jerman (1824-1891) and his distant cousin, Anne Jerman (1829-1865) came from a farming family who owned and leased many farms around Llanidloes in Montgomeryshire. Thomas was a younger son, and never established himself on sufficient land to avoid bankruptcy. He then went to Lampeter in Cardiganshire to become a porter at the new railway station.  His wife died shortly after he arrived there and left him with a young family. In due course he became increasingly deaf, anddied as a result of a railway accident. My great-grandmother continued to visit Wales until after the First World War, and my grandfather recalled very long Sundays in chapel listening to lengthy sermons in Welsh.

There are three stories:

1. A farming family in the upper Severn valley of mid-Wales. (1852)

2. The bankruptcy sale at Bontnewydd Farm. Montgomeryshire (1864)

3. On being deaf: death on the railways. (1891)

pdf Thomas Jacks Jerman (1824-1891) and Anne Jerman (1829-65)

(H) The Becks

William Beck (1843-1912) was born in Musselburgh, became a house-painter in Edinburgh and then moved to the Clydeside to be a ship’s painter. His wife, Janet Sutherland (1843-1928) lost both her parents at an early age and worked in service as a very young girl. They moved around Britain as contracts were offered, and in fact Janet died at Ryde on the Isle of Wight where one of her daughters had married a shop-keeper.

There are four stories:

1. Growing up in Musselburgh in early Victorian Scotland (1851)

2. A Scottish Hogmanay at the Tron Kirk in Edinburgh (1864)

3. Clyde built and painted: scenes at Dumbarton on the launching of the “Cutty Sark”. (1869)

4. Sudden death in Govan, but no murder (1908)

pdf William Beck and Janet Sutherland

(I) The Whites

James Harrison White (1848-1913) was a protestant Irish immigrant to Glasgow from Cavan Town, County Cavan.  He had been educated for the Ministery, at the expense of two maiden aunts, but decided to become an engineer on the Clyde instead.  He married a young widow, Mary Bowie (1844-1932), shortly after arriving in Glasgow.  Her first husband had died of TB.

There are four stories:

1. Consumption in the tenements of Partick. (1865)

2. The Irish arrive: Broomielaw Glasgow. (1867)

3. The Kaiser’s Navy and the life and death of Alfred White. (1892)

4. Reading, writing and football: the first Ibrox didaster. (1902)

pdf James Harrison White and Mary Bowie



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