Archive for ‘Scotland’

May 28, 2017

Bridge over the Don

The following has been taken from the Flickr account of Aberdeen Granite

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Bridge of Don, Aberdeen

Until the recent opening of a new bridge over the river the Bridge of Don was the main crossing point for traffic to and from the north of the city. Built when Aberdeen was beginning to break free of the commercial and physical bounds of the old town this bridge, like the earlier Union Bridge in the heart of the city, was not only a transport improvement but also a boost for the burgeoning granite industry. The elegant five-arched bridge illustrated the wealth of the area and the showed how the local stone could satisfy aesthetic and engineering needs or as Provost Brown put at laying of the foundation stone in 1827, the designers had looked to “unite utility with ornament”.

Utility, however, was delayed in arriving as there were considerable problems with subsidence of piers, but eventually all was remedied and by late 1830 the bridge was opened to traffic. Design and modification had involved contributions from Telford, Gibb of Aberdeen and the local architect John Smith. And so the “ornament” stood in its original dimensions until the 1950s when the voracious demands of motor lorries and cars led to a widening of the bridge but even so the elegance of the granite structure remains, and the piers still refuse to subside.

May 25, 2017

The Peasant-Boy Philosopher James Ferguson astronomer and limner from Rothiemay

james ferguson astronomer 2 rothiemay

Gravestone at Milltown of Rothiemay

A chance glimpse of a name on a gravestone in a tiny village in Moray aroused my curiosity.

James Ferguson astronomer it read. I wasn’t familiar with the name but my other half was and told me Ferguson was famous long ago (and not for playing the electric violin on Desolation Row). So I took a photo of the tombstone and looked him up when I got back home.

James Ferguson was born to a poor tenant farmer and his wife in Rothiemay near Keith in Banffshire in the presbytery of Strathbogie during the year of 1710. As a young loon he earned his keep herding sheep and later working in a mill. Fascinated by what he saw about him the boy developed a hunger for learning and as a child mapped the night sky with thread and beads. His enquiring mind was never at rest and he set about educating himself. He first learned to read by listening in to lessons given by his father to his older brother for despite their humble circumstances the father was, as most Scots were, literate to an extent that they might be able to read the bible. And so in the evenings after work reading was taught centring mainly on the Scottish Catechism. That the young Ferguson was attempting to learn at the same time as his brother wasn’t obvious to their father and James was unwilling to ask for help when he found the going tough and he turned to a neighbour, an elderly woman, who coached him in reading so that by the time the father discovered his competence he encouraged him further by teaching James to write as well. The icing on the cake was the three months James spent at the grammar school at Keith and those three months amounted to the whole of James Ferguson’s formal education.  

Perhaps it was his inauspicious start in life that persuaded the successful adult James Ferguson to ensure his own writings on the physical sciences were easily accessible to untrained minds. His book Lectures on Mechanics attracted a vast number of readers across all classes and became a classic to be found in every mechanics workshop, it was claimed, as well as a source for other learned works but all of that lay in the future for the boy from Rothiemay.

Ferguson’s interest in mechanics came about by accident. He was about 7 or 8 years old when the roof of the family’s meagre home began to sag. His father set about repairing it – using a lever to position a prop that lifted it more or less back into place. Watching him the young James was astonished at how his father managed to raise such a great weight with so little difficulty. He imagined the ease of the exercise was down to his father’s great strength but later thinking about it realised his father had applied his strength to the lever not the prop and the child began to make his own levers and developed experiments to hoist up weights.

Soon his models were adapted with wheels and winding ropes and the results were methodically recorded so that he might improve on each design and he would probably have been content to continue passing his time in this manner but as one of six children he had to earn his keep and was found work looking after a neighbour’s sheep and this is how he came to study the night skies. A pattern emerged in his life whereby he made models of mills, spinning-wheels and such in daytime then at night he would take a blanket and go out into a field and lying down on his back would stretch out threads strung with small beads positioning each bead to hide a star from his eye – in this way he calculated their distance from one another. Then by candlelight he laid out the thread over paper and marked the positions of the beads/stars building up maps of the night skies. He showed these maps to the farmer, James Glashan, who laughed at him at first before realising the boy was onto something and began encouraging him. During the day James made fair copies of his rough calculations, his star papers, sometimes helped by Glashan. Later in his life Ferguson said of the farmer,

“I shall always have a respect for the memory of that man.”

And he went on –

One day he sent me with a message to Mr J Gilchrist, minister at Keith, to whom I had been known from my childhood. I carried my star papers to show him, and found him looking over a large parcel of maps, which I surveyed with great pleasure as they were the first I had ever seen. He then told me the earth is round like a ball, and explained the map of it to me. I requested him to lend me that map to take a copy of it in the evenings, for which pleasant employment my master gave me more time than I could reasonable expect, and often took the threshing-flail out of my hands and worked himself, while I sat by him in the barn busy with my compasses, ruler, and pen. When I had finished the copy I asked leave to carry home the map. In my way to the minister’s house I happened to pass the village school, where I saw a genteel-looking man painting a sun-dial on the wall. I stopped awhile to observe him, and the schoolmaster came out and asked me what parcel it was I had under my arm. I showed him the map and my copy of it, wherewith he appeared very well pleased, and asked me whether I should not like to learn of Mr Cantley to make sun-dials. Mr Cantley then looked at the copy of the map, and commended it much.”

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Ferguson’s Orrery

One thing led to another involving the kirk minister and a wealthy individual who invited the boy to live at his house where Cantley was butler with the idea that he would be taught by Cantley. James could not take up this offer immediately for he was bound to Glashan as his herder but once his time was out he took up residence with Thomas Grant of Achoynaney and there the boy and Cantley formed a close friendship. Self-taught Cantley excelled in arithmetic, mathematics, geometry in addition to being a highly capable musician. He also understood Latin, French and Greek and was said able to write a prescription if required. The arrangement ended when Cantley moved to another household and James Ferguson returned home and found work in a mill but his friendship with Cantley lasted till Cantley’s death.

Milling was more arduous than James anticipated it would be and his employer was an unreasonable man who made life difficult for him. After a year the boy had become physically weak. Another engagement further depleted his strength and the child was forced to rest and recuperate.

During this low period in his life while James tried to regain his strength he occupied himself by making a wooden clock using the neck of a broken bottle as the ‘bell’ against which a hammer struck but interested in the differences between a clock and a watch that did not require a weight and line he persuaded a gentleman to show him the inside of his pocket watch. James listened as the workings were explained and having memorised the instruction went on to make his own watch with wooden wheels and a spring made from whalebone. The whole works he encased in wood and the watch which was a little larger than a breakfast teacup was proudly shown to a clumsy neighbour who accidentally dropped it then stood on it, crushing all its parts. James’ father was infuriated and ready to beat the neighbour and the whole episode affected James so much he never made another watch.

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As soon as his health was recovered James left the village to make his way in life. He earned a  meagre living maintaining clocks and when at Durn House at Portsoy he took to painting the stone balls on top of the gateposts – one as a globe of earth and the other the night sky – accurately aligned towards the celestial pole so they became sundials – using his lessons from Cantley to map them accurately. He would later go on to make pocket globes which brought him a reasonable living.

Ferguson had what we now call transferable skills and he found earned money producing needlework patterns for aprons and gowns. His artistic ability enabled him to copy paintings he saw in fine houses and this inspired him to learn portraiture but he was disappointed to discover none of the artists in Edinburgh where he tried would take him on as an apprentice without a premium. However, the Rev Dr. Keith sat for a portrait by James and so pleased was he by the result he recommended him to others so gradually James Ferguson had wealthy individuals queuing up to be drawn by him and a career as a pen and ink portraitist, a limner, was born.

Driven to learn Ferguson taught himself medicine and practised for a time in Keith but could not make a living from it as once helped his patients forgot to pay him.

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Ferguson’s Astronomical Rotula

 

Astronomy was still the area James Ferguson longed to be involved with. From Edinburgh James Ferguson went to Inverness and invented an instrument to demonstrate new moons and eclipses; soon his Astronomical Rotula was published. He made a mechanical model of the solar system, an orrery, and word of his abilities spread. He came to the notice of the Royal Society and in 1747 he published his first work, a Dissertation on the Phenomena of the Harvest Moon. A prolific author he published his mechanical lectures, tables and tracts on various arts and sciences, a treatise on electricity and his Astronomical Dialogues between a Gentleman and Lady in which they discuss Newton’s system of the world in mathematical terms. His many writings were translated into French, German and Swedish as his fame spread. Readers of his works included the political theorist and one of the founding fathers of the United States of America Thomas Paine and astronomer and composer William Herschel. Ferguson was acquainted with Benjamin Franklin (whose inventions enabled the electric violin) and drew on his designs of a 3-wheeled clock for his own trials. Ferguson began giving public lectures on experimental philosophy going on to become one of the most popular lecturers of his time using instruments and models to entertain as well as inform the public. George III was an admirer and awarded Ferguson an annual pension of £50 from the Privy Purse. However it was his inventions of scientific and astronomical apparatus that most captivated attention.  

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He lived in London for thirty years making his living mainly as a limner but also selling his globes. In 1763 he was elected a member of the Royal Society without being required to pay for admission (unusual it appears).

James Ferguson led an extraordinary life, immensely successful in so many ways but I suspect it did not entirely satisfy the man who wanted to do so much else with his time. He did not enjoy a happy family life and was legally separated from his wife Isabella. They had four children.

Humble and courteous, described as a lovely character, James Ferguson’s eventful life ended on 16th November 1776 at the age of 66 years and while his name is included in the gravestone back home in Milltown of Rothiemay he was buried near his former wife and their son James in Old Marylebone churchyard in London.

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James Ferguson’s tomb at the lost Old Marylebone graveyard

 

You can find out more about Ferguson’s burial from this short article from the University of Edinburgh

http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?bibcode=2012JAHH…15…57D&db_key=AST&page_ind=0&data_type=GIF&type=SCREEN_VIEW&classic=YES

 

 

May 18, 2017

Fraternising with the enemy: Scots and Germans

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The Great War front line Christmas truce of 1914 is well known, specially that game of football. Truth is there were several similar episodes and one involving troops of the Gordon Highlanders was recounted by two men who took part when they were invalided to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.

Privates Garden McIntosh and W. Kiloh from Banff near Aberdeen were serving at the front with the 6th Gordon Highlanders on Christmas morning in 1914 when they were startled to see several German soldiers emerge from their trenches and approach them with their hands held up. Speaking in perfect English the Germans wished the young Scottish troops a Merry Christmas.

Once over their surprise the kilted Gordons happily joined in the good wishes and soon Scots and Germans, who were from Bavaria, were exchanging gifts; long German rolls for bully beef and other rations although the dark German bread rolls were not much appreciated by the Scots.

Present too was the regiment’s padre, Aberdonian Rev. J. Esslemont Adams, who addressed men from both sides with a message in keeping with Christmas and in return he received a generous gift of a beautiful melodeon. It struck the two Gordons this was a considerable sacrifice for playing music was one of the few means of keeping up spirits so far from home and in the midst of the horrors of war and tense frustrating stalemates.

This truce lasted for several days before it came to the notice of German officers -goodness knows where they were all this time but when they became aware of the fraternisation between the two sides they moved their men away to a different position. Until then an occasional German voice would call out in the middle of the night to one of the Scots, addressing him as sergeant —-, and inviting him to “come and have your rum.” The sergeant always resisted the offer to ‘stand treat.”

These particular Scots and Bavarians got on well and it emerged that several of the Germans had worked in Scotland as hotel employees before the war and their hearts were not in fighting but soon that was what they were all ordered to do.

***

At the same time as reading about the 6th Gordons and their Bavarian foe I came across this poignant tale relating to the death of a twenty-one year old soon after he arrived in France from the northeast of Scotland.

In October 1915 Mr and Mrs Merson of 17 Mount St in Aberdeen received word that their son Lawrence, a lance corporal with D Coy., 13 Platoon of the 1/4th Gordon Highlanders, had been killed in action in France.

Lawrence was fourteen when he began work with the post office in Aberdeen and before joining up for war service he was postie at Blairs outside the city. At the age of 21 years he volunteered for the Great War.

A young German soldier came across his corpse in a front line trench and went through Lawrence’s pockets removing his identification disc, papers and letters, including his paybook and sent them all to his (the German’s) sister in Frankfurt asking that she send them on to the Highlander’s family. The sister was happy to oblige and wrote an accompanying letter and forwarded the lot to her uncle in Switzerland that he might send them to Mr and Mrs Merson in Aberdeen. This is her letter.

Frankfort-on-Maine

  It is a very sad matter I am writing you. My brother sent home a letter from the front and begged me to write you.

  He stands in the West, and it was in his first letter since the hard fights there. My eldest brother was killed last year at Ypres, so that I know how glad we were to hear any details of his death.  I think you have already heard that Lawrence B. Merson, whom I believe to be your son, did not come back from the last fight. We were enemies, but pain and mourning are uniting us. So thought my brother, too, for he wrote everything about your son he could find out. I just will translate it to you –

  “We led the way to our position, and found there a dead Highlander, who had a deep wound above the right eye, probably by a thrust of the bayonet. We found the following objects: – Book of payments, mark of distinction, a small sketch, and an instrument against the gases. The dead Englishman had his gun with the bayonet at it (and there were spots of blood on it) on his right side. He was a Highlander with a kilt, and bare knees.”

  My brother sent these photos. I am sure my brother and his comrades did all honour to their enemy who died in their tracks.

The young Germans’ uncle in Geneva also wrote a letter to Lawrence’s parents expressing his feelings:

“My brother is a clergyman for French Protestants in Frankfort, and his son is in the German army, although we are of old Swiss origin, and he sent the intimation to his sister in Frankfort. Your son did his duty for his country, and he will find his reward. God help you in these dark days.”

This was in October of 1915 and Lawrence died in the February that year so it is likely that the Mersons already knew of their son’s death but it is also likely the most affectionate communication wasn’t that of the army but from the ‘enemy’.

 

 

 

April 28, 2017

“Up Fittie down with the Hun”: 1920s xenophobia and trade

Guest post by Textor

On April 2nd as many as 3000 gathered at the fish market intent on stopping all landings. Fish was dumped, boats cast adrift and strike breakers intimidated. At one point police threw a cordon between Torry and the town in an attempt to stop fishermen moving en-masse to the centre. Baton charges were made. Not to be outdone the women of Torry gathered bowls, jars and stones to pelt the police. When police cleared the streets men and women took refuge in tenements reappearing as the waves of law and order moved on, all the better to attack from the rear. Meanwhile across on the north side of the harbour the families of Fittie gathered crying Up Fittie Down with the Hun. With creels and baskets full of stones they proceeded to pelt boats entering or leaving the harbour, forcing skippers to the south side of the channel where they were met by a barrage from the Torry men and women. The police were undone by this pincer movement.

German Trawlers 4

At a time when the unpleasant whiff of xenophobia drifts over the stinking frame of crises ridden economies it’s worth recalling that there is nothing new in this. It’s what the class divided beast does; cling to backward-looking, mythologised national identity; to blame others for what are in fact consequences of the endemic conditions of international competition is so much easier than seeking out the social foundations of crises.

This is not to say that xenophobic opinion has no location in objective reality, that it is necessarily the manifestation of mad psychologies. No. The current spectre haunting Europe and beyond draws on ways in which the “free movement” of labour has increased competition between workers and helped keep wages down. In other words “foreign” workers are in a sense a threat to older labour markets. But it is the underpinning forces which mobilise them.

In the 1920s Aberdeen was hit by problems and disputes across two of the most important sectors of the local economy: trawling and granite. The foundation of both lay in intensification of international competition and the legacies of the Great War, and both centred on foreign labour undermining British industry.

 

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Trawling

It was hardly surprising that when the German trawler Bremerhaven attempted to dock and land fish in Aberdeen in 1919 that there was a wave of revulsion. The war had just ended and Aberdonians, like so many others, had suffered deeply in the slaughter of 1914-18. Men gathered at the quayside to refuse the Germans the right to land. Following its search for a berth the trawler eventually grounded and its crew stoned with the demand the German flag be run down. The local paper described the skipper’s attempt to land as brazen insolence and sinister and making clear its animosity to German trade said it was an unfriendly act of a nation not penitent but revengeful. The editor went so far as to sneer at the country’s Kultur of dried raw fish as a delicacy. Bremerhaven was forced out of Aberdeen, eventually landing at its home port where the Social Democrat Party came to its fishermen’s defence and denounced the Aberdeen men as an English rabble claiming Aberdonian screamed Baby killers. Pigs. Shoot down the Huns.

Three years later the trawler Else Kunkel II steamed into Aberdeen hoping to land its fish; again there was opposition to former enemy, now called alien exploiters who were threatening the livelihoods of local families. Aberdeen’s fishermen were said to hold bitter hostility against their former enemy. However their fish was landed and so the trade was continued sporadically through the year. Skippers and mates appealed to the Government for enforcement of the Reparations [Recovery] Act and that it applied 26% duty on German fish. No help was forthcoming. Matters were made more difficult when the particular interests of buyers and fish processors opposed the embargo demanded by trawlermen; and there was local bitterness when Peterhead harbour offered to give room to German boats, not through internationalism but for the money to be made. The local newspaper acknowledged the need for Europe-wide trade in fish but realised with more powerful trawlers and crews able and willing to fish dangerous Icelandic waters the local industry faced a serious threat: A German monopoly of the fish trade of Aberdeen would leave the consumer in the grip of alien exploiters and would mean a disaster to a great local industry.

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So matters simmered until February 1923 when skippers and mates voted to strike. Once again the rhetoric of wartime found a voice: you are fighting the Hun a second time for your rights. By the end of the first week of March 100 boats were tied up with hundreds of men out of work. Share fishermen, skippers and mates, led the dispute fearing for their livelihoods. Waged men, deckhands and engineers, were what you might call victims rather than being instrumental in this strike. Although local communists mobilised meetings around the notion of the internationalism of the working class as distinct from men such as skippers and mates there is no evidence that any significant animosity split the ranks nor that the waged men felt kinship with the German crews despite rumblings about some share men having avoided service in the war and making money out of wartime demand.

In fact solidarity within and across the fishing communities of Torry and Fittie was strong enough to draw them together to fight German landings, strike-breakers and police. When one local boat decided to scab hundreds turned out from Torry to confront the skipper and turn him back. Boats were sabotaged including the German trawler Senator Sache; while its crew slept the moorings were cut; eventually saved from grounding by the local pilot. Porters landing German fish were threatened with violence and police were defied. On April 2nd as many as 3000 gathered at the fish market intent on stopping all landings. Fish was dumped, boats cast adrift and strike breakers intimidated. At one point police threw a cordon between Torry and the town in an attempt to stop fishermen moving en-masse to the centre. Baton charges were made. Not to be outdone the women of Torry gathered bowls, jars and stones to pelt the police. When police cleared the streets men and women took refuge in tenements reappearing as the waves of law and order moved on, all the better to attack from the rear. Meanwhile across on the north side of the harbour the families of Fittie gathered crying Up Fittie Down with the Hun. With creels and baskets full of stones they proceeded to pelt boats entering or leaving the harbour, forcing skippers to the south side of the channel where they were met by a barrage from the Torry men and women. The police were undone by this pincer movement.

But so much conspired against the lcoal trawling industry, both men and forces of international trade. Trawl owners looked for compromise, buyers needed the Icelandic fish brought by Germans, the herring industry needed access to the German market and the British government was unwilling to hamper this sector of international trade. From the German side it made so much sense to continue coming to Aberdeen or failing this perhaps Peterhead. With the German Mark devalued, and the hyperinflation of 1923, the prices realised at British ports easily covered the costs of labour and coal. Stones and insults were little compared to the high explosives of the Great War.

 

Granite Yard

Granite

Much less militant but driven by very similar forces Aberdeen’s granite industry also found itself in 1923 under threat from German competition. It is probably the case that much of the militancy of the fishermen and their families was born from the closeness of their communities with so many of them living together in the tenements of Torry and Fittie. Granite workers had a much more fragmented life style.

Granite like fish was as open to international competition. And like the owners of trawler Bremerhaven German manufacturers could and did take advantage of the opportunities afforded by devaluation. Selling in the British market was more profitable and vitally gave payment in Sterling, then an important international currency.

Just as the trawler dispute had at times adopted a stance of being anti-German as opposed to anti German competition so also did the dispute with foreign granite traders. Not that Aberdeen’s stone trade was against the import of foreign granite in fact since the later 19th century the trade had depended on imports to meet the fashion for greater variety of colour in memorials. What disturbed Aberdeen’s granite manufacturers was the threat of dressed stone being sold to British customers.

The first hint that there might be competition coming from Germany was reported in 1921when the defeated nation was found to be trading in France. Bad enough there being a competitor on the block but made worse by the belief that monuments made by the one-time enemy were to be erected over the graves of dead French soldiers. In the following year one Friederich Hagelauer of Fürth was said to have been offering memorial crosses for British graves.

German Granite Leaflet 1923

By 1923 the “scandal” was being highlighted in Aberdeen’s Press & Journal with German’s accused of dumping fish and dumping granite. The Sunday Post took up the cry of an insult to our heroic dead the stones being erected where woman pray . . . and children weep. Aberdeen’s granite manufacturers sided with the newspapers and led the way in Scotland to enforcing an embargo on this foreign stone. However, it was one thing to achieve success in the home country it was another to get English dealers and customers to agree to a boycott. For customers there was the incentive of cheaper stone, if they were willing to turn a blind eye to origins; and for dealers there was the carrot of more profit. With the English market still accepting German imports Aberdeen’s trade with the south was threatened.

The difficulties Aberdeen’s stone trade faced were nothing compared to the chaos hitting Germany as it struggled to meet reparation demands of the Versailles Treaty. Its economy had all but collapsed, made worse when France occupied the Ruhr bringing its vast coal industry to a halt. Compared with the French the British state favoured a more conciliatory attitude to the defeated enemy, favoured international trade and stabilisation of the German economy.

Consequently when the granite traders approached the Government and asked for an increased tariff on German stone, like the trawlermen they met with refusal, indeed they faced the prospect that the existing tariff might be cut. The Press & Journal argued the local case, believing (and this sounds eerily like opinion in 2017) that by giving up free trade and enforcing tariffs the grave menace of foreign competition could be brought to heal. Regardless of the clout the local press had in the North East its opinion failed to sway the government and into 1926 imports continued.

Employers led the way in this dispute. There were no bands of granite-cutters and families guarding cemeteries, dinging doon German memorials; the nature of the trade simply did not lend itself to this form of action. But labour did have a voice which put itself behind the demands of the masters. George Murray, who lost a son in the Great War said it made his blood boil that German stone should even be offered as suitable material for British graves. Putting a stop to this, he said, was not only the correct thing to do but also good for the industry and what was good for business was good for workers: We in Belmont Street [offices of the Trades Council] are always favourable to the bosses . . . but of course we expect a good living wage from them in return.

 

 

Apart from the notable success in Scotland the best legislative advance made was to seek the protection of the Merchandise Marks Act, at one point speaking to Sidney Webb at the Board of Trade arguing that the granite imports should be marked “Made in Germany”. Eventually in 1929, after extensive evidence given including opposition from granite retailers, the Government decided that stone should be marked with its country of origin. Although important to local communities across Britain the Government had decided the granite industry was of no great significance in the national economy hence refusal to “safeguard” it from overseas competition. Marking stone was the most it would concede but even here it was niggardly in the eyes of merchants as only the slightest of marks-stencilled- was insisted on, not the heavily-cut lettering asked for by manufacturers.

The year after being given nominal protection the complaints continued. Germans were accused of stealing designs, appropriating the names of granites made famous by the Aberdeen industry and despite the legislation they palm off cheaply produced monuments . . . as British made.

British made; a rallying cry of the period as the United Kingdom hoped to engender patriotism in consumers and at the same time draw from the still important empire preferential treatment for manufacturers. But even here, with the cold wind of protectionism blowing across economies dealing with slump and the fall-out from the Crash of 1929, even here Aberdeen’s granite merchants struggled. Canada, for instance, did a curtsy to the “Mother Country” but refused to bow the knee. Canada gave some slight advantage to British granite but it still bore a tariff of 27% thus favouring Canadian manufacturers.

 

Cheyne Nellfield granite Works 1915 (2)

And so the Aberdeen granite industry, along with other British manufacturers, found the battle largely lost, found its markets shrinking and in an increasingly unstable world was forced to look to improving its competitive position by reorganising the use of labour and introducing new technology to raise productivity. And where in 1936 did Aberdonians go to see how granite could and should be handled? Germany.

Under the auspices of the British Institute of Quarrying a deputation representing the trade plus engineer Frank Cassie were content to take lessons from “the enemy”. At one site near Dresden they visited a quarry where 2000 men were said to be employed, where 250 men working at stone-splitting machines produced thousands of granite setts. Although Frank Cassie believed Aberdeen granite was unsuitable for mechanical sett-making overall the deputation was impressed by the thoroughness with which the German does the job, and the importance attached to organisation. Three years into Hitler’s rule the British deputation was envious of Germany’s road and bridge building – a policy they said the British government should put in hand. Whether the deputation witnessed other aspects of the young Nazi regime is not recorded.

 

Pneumati Tools

The pressures of social disruption and global economic crises exposed the trawling and granite industries as poorly equipped to meet the threat of external competition. Trawl owners were content to fish middle-distance waters using an ageing fleet and granite merchants managed an industry characterised by a few large employers in a sea of small businesses, far from ideal when foreign competition became very keen.

April 20, 2017

Tribute to a common man

Kemnay’s Carrier

mitchell - Copy

James Mitchell

Entering the village of Kemnay from the west you pass a substantial granite monument topped by a modest-looking figure in working clothes. This is no glorified general eyeing up the enemy or a haughty royal staring over the heads of us little people but an unassuming-looking man contemplating – his next job? the journey home? what to make for his supper? He looks like one of us. His wears a modest working jacket. His knee-breeks laced over his stockings are creased. His short boots are ordinary working boots with the good thick soles of a man who’s on his feet a lot. On his head he wears a traditional Scottish bonnet which would have been made from blue wool, over a shoulder hangs a bag for carrying letters and in his hand the badge of his trade, a coiled rope used to secure items to his cart.

Meet James Mitchell, Jamie. He was born in 1773 in Kemnay, a village some sixteen miles west of Aberdeen. He never learned to read or write but his exceptional memory served him well in his job and so here he is over 200 years after his birth still remembered by his community. It was said of Jamie Mitchell that despite his lack of formal education it was he who became virtually the only link between the parish of Kemnay and the outside world.

Jamie was a carrier. In the days before DPD there was Royal Mail parcel delivery and before Royal Mail parcel delivery there was Jamie Mitchell. Up on his box cart he was a familiar presence in the area – calling in at cottages, farmhouses, manses and mansions collecting and delivering items – and no doubt snippets of news he picked up on his travels. His pickups and deliveries often took him into Aberdeen where he might stay overnight at lodgings in Harriet Street. He was the mail man – see the bag over his shoulder on the statue – as well as a carrier of messages and goods; anything he was commissioned to transport.

urn - Copy

James Mitchell’s trade kept him out in all weathers but it did him little harm for he lived to the ripe old age of 84. Appropriate with his occupation his memorial incorporated a water fountain to quench the thirst of wayfarers and seats to take their rest.

The memorial was provided by Joseph Annand, a retired businessman who had shops in both Udny and Holburn Street in Aberdeen, who as a child was often given a hurl in his grandfather’s cart. I don’t know if the reference meant Mitchell was Annand’s grandfather or only that his grandfather had his own cart. Whatever, Annand should be commended for recognising the importance of the role Jamie Mitchell provided for Kemnay and district.

In 1936 Colonel George Milne of Logie had only just unveiled the memorial in front of a large crowd when Joseph Annand remarked, “Aye, that’s just like him.”

How was it that so long after his death time the sculptor captured a close likeness? It appears that one day a local church minister sent Jamie on an errand to an Aberdeen photographic company and unknown to Jamie he was photographed as he stood waiting for the reply. When Jamie died the minister gave the photograph of him to Annand’s mother and the photo was copied to make an oil painting from which the statue was modelled.

Grey Kemnay granite was used for the statue and main structure which incorporates a well, urn, statue and fountain of Peterhead marble. An inscription on the fountain reads:

In memory of James Mitchell, Carrier 1773 – 1857/ All ye who thirst come drink from this flow of pure water which springs at Dalfling in the Shadow of Benachie. Regrettably someone took the decision to turn off the flow of pure water and so the fountain is now dry. Now when you pass by you’ll know who the mannie is and wherever you’re headed or come from he probably covered the same ground many times over. 

The waggoner of Kemany

 

 

 

 

April 11, 2017

The day young Byron was nearly lost in a snowstorm

Engraving based on the Kay portrait

Engraving of Byron as a boy based on a painting by John Kay

Into the midst of a great snowstorm and winds of unusual strength emerged a group of schoolboys. It was a wild wintry day during the late 1790s and the folk of Aberdeen had never before seen anything like the ferocious gusting blasts swirling hale and the driving snow that fell with such intensity that stepping out into it was fraught with danger. Yet at twelve mid-day pupils from Aberdeen’s Grammar School set off as usual towards the St Nicholas Street school where they were due to attend Mr Duncan’s writing class.

The Grammar School was in Schoolhill and the boys thought to follow their normal route cutting through St Nicholas kirkyard. By luck the high wall there offered a degree of protection from the windstorm and drifting snow but still progress was tricky. It was when they came to where the wall finished, to the gate, the boys were taken by surprise by the intensity of the tempest, a hurricane it was described, against which the smallest boys could make no progress but were driven backwards and scarcely able to keep their feet. So they retreated to the relative safety of the wall too petrified to move. One of the wee boys was George Gordon Byron.

Two of George Gordon Byron’s bigger classmates took hold of the his hands and they tackled the blinding snow together but the ferocity of the wind proved too much and it became every boy for himself. Poor wee George Gordon’s hands were let go of and he was swept back into the graveyard by the hurricane.

When by evening he failed to return home one of the servants was sent out in search of him. At the home of one of his fellow-pupils she was told about the struggle at the height of the snowstorm and how it might be the poor lad was still in the churchyard, hiding under one of its many large flat ledger tombstones.

leaves in St Nicholas graveyard cropped

Ledger tombstones in St Nicholas Kirkyard

A party of men was hastily dispatched, lanterns in hand, to search the now dark St Nicholas kirkyard and eventually they found the lost and tearful George Gordon Byron shivering and on the point of collapse under a ledger. And so the world of poetry was not deprived of a genius of verse.

However, as an old man, another of Byron’s school friends told a different version of the incident.

“No such thing! I was with him,” he recalled, “the weaker boys could not get into the churchyard at all. We could not leave the Schoolhil, and we found shelter in Mr Leslie Cruickshank’s hosiery; in whose kitchen we were dried and warmed, and sat waiting till our friends fetched us in the evening, when they could get to us, and found where we were.”

Of course both accounts could be largely true; that the boys battling through the unrelenting storm were so exhausted and frightened they gladly retreated to the warmth of the hosiery while the bigger loons (Aberdeen Doric term for boys) continued on to Mr Duncan’s writing class. And there is no dispute that several boys, including George Gordon Byron, had still not made it home by the evening.

One of George Gordon Byron’s fellow- pupils, of the name Cruickshank, remarked many years later that it was while sheltering at the hosiery they became aware of Byron’s ability as a story-teller when he captivated them with his rendering of “a beautiful tale out of the Arabian Nights.”

 ***

Mither Kirk St Nicholas

As an adult George Gordon Byron’s behaviour was frequently looked on askance so it is little wonder he was a mischievous wee devil as a child in Aberdeen.

Late in his life one that knew George Gordon Byron at the Grammar School criticised him for having a “most damnable disposition” and told of the day they were sitting together in a classroom when Byron cut the buttons off the boy’s coat. He added that he gave the young Byron a “good hiding” in return.

The same man also recalled that Byron loathed ‘dumpy women’ although this man commented that Byron’s own mother was ‘the dumpiest woman I ever saw in my life.’

 ***

Morven

Morven

Byron spent his childhood in Aberdeen close to his mother’s family estate north of the town and loved the bonnie countryside out to the west* – returning there to renew acquaintances and walk up the hill of Morven one last time. It was in Aberdeen he learnt to swim and became an accomplished swimmer by all accounts; as an adult he swam the Hellespont Strait between Europe and Asia. In Aberdeen he also became a proficient boatman.

George Gordon Byron and his mother left Aberdeen when he was ten and became the 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale. The boy’s friends discovered his inherited knighthood when the attendance was being taken at the Grammar school and instead of the teacher calling him George Gordon Byron he referred to him as Georgi, Baro de Byron. Instead of his usual reply Adsum (I am present) the boy burst into tears and ran out of the classroom.

His nurse May Gray stayed behind when Byron and his mother left for the south and young George Gordon gave her his watch as a parting gift along with a full length portrait of him painted by Kay of Edinburgh in 1795 in which he posed with a bow and arrows and long hair falling about his shoulders.

Finishing his education in England Byron then left for Lisbon and the Mediterranean at the age of 21, famously taking part in the Greek civil war and it was in Greece he died in 1824 aged 36.


*Lochnagar

Away, ye gay landscapes, ye gardens of roses!
In you let the minions of luxury rove;
Restore me the rocks where the snow-flake reposes,
Though still they are sacred to freedom and love;
Yet, Caledonia, beloved are thy mountains,
Round their white summits though elements war;
Though cataracts foam ‘stead of smooth-flowing fountains,
I sigh for the valley of dark Loch na Garr.

Ah ! there my young footsteps in infancy wandered;
My cap was the bonnet, my cloak was the plaid;
On chieftains long–perished my memory ponder’d,
As daily I strode through the pine–covered glade;
I sought not my home till the day’s dying glory
Gave place to the rays of the bright polar star;
For fancy was cheered by traditional story,
Disclosed by the natives of dark Loch na Garr.

“Shades of the dead! Have I not heard your voices
Rise on the night–rolling breath of the gale?”
Surely the soul of the hero rejoices,
And rides on the wind, o’er his own Highland vale.
Round Loch na Garr while the stormy mist gathers,
Winter presides in his cold icy car:
Clouds there encircle the forms of my fathers;
They dwell in the tempests of dark Loch na Garr.

Ill–starr’d, though brave, did no visions foreboding
Tell you that fate had forsaken your cause?
Ah! were you destined to die at Culloden,
Victory crowned not your fall with applause:
Still were you happy in death’s earthly slumber,
You rest with your clan in the caves of Braemar;
The pibroch resounds, to the piper’s loud number,
Your deeds on the echoes of dark Loch na Garr.

Years have rolled on, Loch na Garr, since I left you,
Years must elapse ere I tread you again:
Nature of verdure and flowers has bereft you,
Yet still you are dearer than Albion’s plain.
England! thy beauties are tame and domestic,
To one who has roved o’er the mountains afar:
Oh for the crags that are wild and majestic!
The steep frowning glories of dark Loch na Garr.

George Gordon Byron

Mad, Bad and Dangerous

FICTION – The Gowk

April 1, 2017

News in Scotland 100 years ago today

Some of the stories making the news around Scotland on 1 April 1917 (outwith the Great War with over a year to run.)

dundee

Daughters of some of Dundee’s men at the Front

  • Aberdeen to get women police patrols.
  • Proposal to start a co-operative jute factory in Dundee.
  • Edinburgh grocers are in favour of a card system for sugar distribution.
  • Some Glasgow grocers are selling sugar in pennysworths.
  • Holidays in munition areas are to be deferred until after the end of July.
  • It is reported that 11,000 teachers in Scotland are getting less than £100 a year.
  • Protests in Lochgilphead against Sunday labour in the woods and fields.
  • Net profits of £270,432 reported by the Bank of Scotland for the past year.
  • There is a credit balance of £150 from the British Industries Fair recently held in Glasgow.
  • Crookston Combination Poorhouse is to be taken over for the reception of mentally afflicted soldiers.
  • A ban on the sale of spirits in parts of Argyllshire and Buteshire has come into force.
  • Some conscientious objectors from England are to be employed in forestry work at Ford in Argyllshire.
  • The Marchioness of Graham has undertaken to provide Lamlash with a convalescent home for the wounded.
  • The Dunoon and District Merchants’ Association have agreed to hold the Fast Days.
  • The fishing village of Whitehills near Banff has lost in one week four men who were on Admiralty service.
  • Tillycoultry Parish Council has decided to proceed with an extension of the cemetery at a cost of £2000.
March 29, 2017

Alford Heritage Museum – Aberdeenshire’s Hidden Gem

 Alford Heritage Museum

The wee village of Alford in Aberdeenshire is very fortunate in having two great museums in its midst. Many know of the Transport Museum but fewer have heard of Alford Heritage Museum which gets very little attention from the outside world.

When I googled museums +Aberdeenshire up popped Aberdeen City museums onto the screen. So then I googled Aberdeenshire Council’s website pages on leisure, sport and culture/museums http://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/leisure-sport-and-culture/museums and this came up!

web page

Inspiring it is not. I have to say Aberdeenshire Council’s website is unremittingly uninspiring, dull and monotonous, not to say unfriendly. Delving deeper and it offered Aberdeenshire Farming Museum – the excellent Aden Country Park but I happen to know there is another one – Pitmedden and, of course, the gem that the Shire does nothing to promote is Alford Heritage Museum.

Alford Heritage Museum of rural life is packed and I mean packed with an impressive array of agricultural implements and working machinery as well as rooms dedicated to a number of specific interests including a smiddy, general store, schoolroom, farmhouse kitchen and the poet Charles Murray.

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Charles Murray room

Why on earth does Aberdeenshire Council continue to ignore this museum? Why have local councillors not pushed it give it a higher profile? One I know of still standing in the forthcoming election used to be on the museum’s board!

Alford Heritage Museum contains arguably the best collection of farming and other memorabilia in this part of Scotland – the whole of Scotland for all I know. It is run on a shoestring by a dedicated team of volunteers and reopens after its winter closure on Saturday 1st April and from then is open every day except Wednesdays.
http://www.spanglefish.com/AlfordHeritageMuseum/

Working the land stretches far back in time in the Howe o’ Alford. It is here that Aberdeen Angus cattle were bred. The museum houses an impressive collection of farming implements and machinery, many working as well as artefacts from the various trades vital to the area. Local retired farmer Leslie Angus has recently given them an old horse-drawn threshing mill built by J&T Young of Ayr which will be displayed for the first time this year.

DSC03866

The museum has been around since 1991 when it opened in Alford’s former cattle mart. It contains a small library with some really fascinating photographs and documents donated by people from the Howe o’ Alford including a collection of Aberdeen Angus and Clydesdale Horse Stud Books dating back to the 19th century.

Direction signs Alford

Old signs from roads around Donside and Deeside

Twice yearly farm servants and farmers gathered at feein’ markets around Whitsunday and Martinmas to settle who would work where for the next six months. In this part of the country they lived in shared accommodation in tiny bothies or in the chaumer, a room above the stables.

Chaumer Alford Museum

Chaumer

DSC03903

The old mart ring now displays donated items including toys

DSC03858.JPG

Mock-up of a village store

Farmhouse kitchen

Farmhouse kitchen

Scottish wildcat

Scottish wild cat

Smith workshop

Blacksmith’s smiddy

Souter's workshop

Souter’s workshop.

Souter is the Scottish word for the English cobbler or shoemaker.

Tailor's workshop

Tailor’s workshop

Thrashing machine

Thrashing machine

Thrashing machine (modern name is threshing machine) for separating seed and husks from harvested grain stalks. Thrashing machines and binders which cut and gathered barley and oats have been replaced by huge combine harvesters.

tractor hall

DSC03869

Schoolroom

The pictures show some of what there is to see. Give yourself and your family a treat by paying a visit to Alford Heritage Museum – you’ll come away with a smile on your face. 

March 21, 2017

‘Have you anything for me?’ the story of Ballater airman and the 1937 boat plane, Capricornus

 

Tucks IA No 48

Boat plane Capricornus

I am addicted to looking around graveyards. Some, I admit, are more interesting than others for many give only the name of the dead and tell nothing of a once active life of the corpse buried below. What I am looking for are the ones that will stop me in my tracks.  This is what happened one sunny and cold Sunday when I found myself staring at a tall grey granite gravestone topped by a pair of wings – not angel wings but stylised wing of an aircraft popular in the 1930s. The inscription confirmed this. A young man killed in an air accident at the age of 29 years.  

gravestone of paterson

 

Flying was still in its infancy but growing in popularity in the 1930s. Faster than merchant ships for transporting goods, military materiel and mail – as well as a few passengers – a network of early flight paths soon connected Britain’s far-flung colonies. Imperial Airways took its name from the British Empire it served and among its expanding fleet were 28 flying boats ordered from Short Brothers of Belfast (the first production aircraft company.) 

These flying boat aircraft, Short Empire four-engined monoplanes,were being turned out at one a month with the first completing its initial flight in July 1936. Designated as C class each aircraft given a name beginning with the letter C. The intention was to fly them between Britain and its colonies- to Australia, British-run parts of Africa and North America.

 

Alexander Paterson was brought up in Ballater on Deeside in Aberdeenshire and as a boy he imagined what it would be like to be an airman. On leaving school he became an apprentice with the local Riverside Garage and emerged a time-served mechanic. From farm machinery and the few motor cars that would have been in the area at the time Alexander followed his ambition to work with aircraft. By 1929 he was employed by Imperial Airways and he and his wife set up home in Cairo in Egypt – then part of the British Empire.serveimage

On a clear day on the 24th March 1937 Captain Alexander Paterson took off on G-ADVA Capricornus from Southampton in England for Alexandria in Egypt. This was the inaugural flight for the £40,000, 88 foot boat plane with its 114 foot wing span. It could accommodate 24 passengers and 5 crew on its two decks but that day it carried only one passenger, Betty Coates from Folkestone in Kent, along with its crew of two pilots, radio operator, flight clerk and steward. On board was a large consignment of bags of mail and ten thousand pounds in gold bullion hidden beneath the floor of the cabin.

Over France the good weather deteriorated and atmospheric interference made communications with the ground difficult. As Capricornus flew over Dijon the air controllers there were busy and when finally the radio operator was able to make out a response he assumed it to be from Dijon when, in fact, it was from Tours. It took several more minutes of confusion to correct the mistake by which time Capricornus was way off course.

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Crashed Capricornus with damaged wing

 

Ten hours into the flight with only broken contact with the ground the aircraft found itself in heavy cloud and snow as it approached Marseilles. The pilots could see nothing ahead in the freezing and blizzard conditions and struggled to maintain course. J.L. Cooper the radio operator heard an aircraft controller at Lyon suggest they alter course for it was noted Capricornus was descending on a course of 145 degrees. Suddenly a wing tip hit a tree hurtling the aircraft back into the air out of control and it dropped down careering through a dry stone wall, finally coming to rest in a pine wood.

Traffic control at Lyon was desperately trying to re-establish contact with the plane: at 14.12 pm it requested a bearing, Have you anything for me? Twice more it tried to raise a response but received only radio silence. 

images

French people at site of the crash

Cooper was thrown out of the craft and came to dazed and with a broken arm. He searched the wreckage then more or less crawled through snow to a farmhouse two miles away where he raised the alarm.

A rescue party discovered Captain Alexander Paterson and Betty Coates badly injured. She was taken to hospital where she died and Alexander to the farm house where four hours later he also died. The bodies of first officer G. E. Klein, flight clerk D. R. O’Brien and steward F. A. E. Jeffcoate were found in the aircraft.

closeup wings

Wings atop gravestone of Alexander Paterson

 

Alexander Paterson’s mother at home in Ballater heard of her son’s death from a report on the wireless. He had been due home on a visit in the summer.

Lochnagar from Tullich

Lochnagar in March from Tullich graveyard at Ballater

 

Bodies of the dead were returned to Britain by rail and boat and Captain Paterson was buried in his native Deeside at Tullich Churchyard just east of Ballater where blinds in homes and businesses were drawn in tribute to one of their own. Pupils from Alexander Paterson’s former school lined the road for his funeral cortege. Paterson’s widow was not at the funeral as she was still making her way back from Cairo but her mother was among mourners who heard of the bright boy who longed to be a pilot, of his courage and determination and the high regard in which he was held by those who knew him. Any casting their eyes to the mountain of Lochnagar on the horizon would have noticed it patched with snow, a reminder, if needed of the conditions that caused the plane to crash.

P1060822

Biblical quote at the foot of A. Paterson’s gravestone

Among wreaths was one from Imperial Airways and another from Paterson’s former colleagues in the airline’s engineering department. A beautiful wreath inscribed Les Aviateurs Miliniques de Bron a leurs camarades Britanniques (Military Airmen from Bron to British comrades.) A wreath, too, from the Consel Municipal of Ouroux in Rhone where Capricornus was wrecked, one from radio amateurs of Egypt and Greece along with those from his family and friends in Ballater including one from pupils and staff at Ballater School.

The fatal accident was raised in parliament when Under-Secretary of State for Air, Sir Philip Sassoon, announced to the Commons that Capricornus had crashed on her maiden trip but when he was asked if the plane was fitted with de-icers, as was the regulation in America, the Speaker intervened and disallowed the question. MPs were reassured, however, that the mail was safe. No mention was made of the secret stash of gold.

March 7, 2017

The Transportation of Angus Gillies

Angus Gillies from Inverness-shire was convicted of simple larceny (theft) at the Old Bailey in London in February 1845 and sentenced to seven years transportation.

Punsihment-of-convicts

I don’t know what attracted Angus Gillies to make the long journey south into England but he worked for a time in the household of a Dr Dowler, as a carer for a man described at the time as ‘a lunatic’. Dr Dowler’s cook and housekeeper, Mary Lewis, and Gillies struck up a relationship and together they planned to open a coffee-shop which was to prove the undoing of Gillies when he was accused of stealing fifteen £10 bank notes and three £5 bank notes which Mary Lewis had withdrawn from a bank to pay for the business.

Full of anticipation the pair set off to check out the property and settle the payment. Mary picked up her money – notes and a little in gold coin when Gillies suggested she let him carry the money –  “You had better hand over that money to me, as I have had the paying of the other money, and I will pay it” – he had earlier paid a deposit of £5.

Bangalore first of migrant ships

Bangalore is on extreme left

Mary Lewis replied, “Well, Mr Gillies, as you had the paying of the other, I suppose you will have the paying of this” and so she gave him notes worth £165 which he slipped into his pocket-book and off they went to the coffee-shop on Ludgate Hill. Satisfied with the premises they were shown into a back room to settle the deal but no sooner had they sat down when Gillies jumped up stating, “I have lost my book.”

Mary Lewis replied, “That is impossible.”

He said, “Then I have dropped it from my pocket in your room; give me your key to go back and look for it.”

She handed over the key to her room and Gillies went out returning within the hour to report he found no sign of the money. Mary Lewis insisted it was impossible the money could have been lost as they had gone straight to the coffee shop from her home. Gillies then urged her to return to the Glyn and Co bank and get from them the numbers of the bank notes paid out to her so they might be stopped.

shippppp

Onboard a convict ship

After this Gillies proposed marriage to Mary Lewis but when their marriage banns were put up he disappeared and that was the last she saw of him until his appearance in the dock of the Old Bailey charged with larceny.

In court as a witness was Janet Gillies, Angus’s cousin. She had travelled all the way from Inverness-shire and as Janet spoke only Gaelic her evidence was relayed through an interpreter. She told the court she saw Gillies at her home a few days before Christmas the previous year when he gave her a bundle of money and asked her to take care of it. In turn she gave the money to Angus MacDonald, a magistrate in Inverness-shire, for safe-keeping. For whatever reason MacDonald passed the money on to Andrew Wyness, a police constable, who was also a witness in court having arrested Angus Gillies at his home in Inverness-shire on the 29th December 1844.

Thirty-five year old Angus Gillies was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land on the 3rd February, 1845.

prison-hulk-discovery

Convict hulk

Gillies was duly put on to one of the very many ships that sailed non-stop delivering their cargoes of criminals to whichever part of the British Empire there was a need to for their labour, far away from families. The majority of this human cargo was composed mainly of the impoverished and desperate among Britain’s population and the trade was a major source of income for shipping companies. Whether or not the transported could ever return to their homes was of no interest to the British authorities.

One of the ships on the Britain to Australia route was Angelina which makes it sound rather nice. In April 1844 she set sail with 171 prisoners stuffed into her hold and docked in Australia in August – four months of incarceration in crampt and unhealthy conditions all the time the distance stretching between the ship and home. Disease and death cut many a sentence short.   

I didn’t expect to find any record of Angus Gillies’ transportation but such is the magic of the internet that is precisely what I did – not in Australia but in the year 1848 – three years after his transportation order from the court – he was at last en route for Van Diemen’s Land on board a wood barque, the Jersey-built Bangalore, along with 203 fellow prisoners sailing from Bermuda.

In 1823 Parliament passed an Act permitting the courts to send their British and Irish convicts to any of Britain’s colonies to provide free labour. Times had become harder for the Britain’s capitalists anxious to squeeze every ounce of profit out of the Empire once slavery was abolished in 1806 -although they kept the trade going until 1833. Over the next forty years 9,000 were transported from Britain and Ireland to Bermuda and put to work mainly on the island’s naval dockyard – quarrying the local limestone and constructing a breakwater, similar to the construction of a prison to provide prisoners for forced labour to construct a breakwater at Peterhead in northeast Scotland.

bermuda 1862

Convict hulks and ships of the British fleet at Bermuda

Seven old hulks were moored off Bermuda to house prisoners many of whom had been given shortish sentences such as Gillies’ with his seven years for larceny. The hulks were steaming hot in summer and freezing cold in winter and were breeding-ground for disease – dysentery, consumption bronchitis and all manner of fevers.

It was easy to become a convict in 19th century Britain and Ireland when people lived in unimaginable poverty and starvation was ever-present. The 1840s was the period of the worst of Ireland’s famines when food grown in that country was carted past hungry men, women and children – food they could not afford to buy and which was being taken to the ports to be exported to England. Anyone caught stealing was arrested, tried and transported.  

jersey

Whatever happened to Angus Gillies once he landed in Australia on 14th July 1848 I have not been able to discover. Did he ever get back to Inverness-shire and his family? Perhaps someone out there knows.