It was probably less than a year into the start of my genealogical research when I was given a sheaf of photocopied papers - something I came to call ‘The Ewing Document’. It had been compiled decades earlier by the wife of a distant cousin who worked as a researcher at New Register House in Edinburgh, and it laid out the Ewing lineage from my great-grandfather, James Ewing (born in 1882), all the way back to his gg-grandfather, James Ewing (born around the late 1760s). Although very basic, it was a wonderful thing to have so early on, even if it did take away some of the thrill of the hunt! During the course of the following years I was able to fill in a lot of the blanks and correct an error or two - but I was never able to get any further with the main Ewing line.
The earliest confirmed sighting of James, recorded then under the name Ewan, is his marriage to Helen Clark at Scone, Perthshire, on 7th July 1793. The first documented child came in March 1795, with six more to follow until August 1809. Two interesting facts are revealed by these Ewan baptism records - firstly it shows that James was a tenant farmer at Limepotts and, secondly, that while most of the children had their baptisms recorded at Scone, they were also recorded in the registers of the Perth Associate Congregation, a seceders’ church on the High Street of the county town.
Limepotts was an estate in Scone Parish, Perthshire, two miles east of Perth, two miles south-east of the old Scone village, and owned by the Grant family. The farm still exists today, though it’s now known as Parkfield, ‘Limepotts’ disappearing in the early 1860s when it was purchased by David Simpson.
In the fifteenth century ‘Leimpottis’ was owned by Scone Abbey, and its name may be a reference to laime, the Scots word for earthenware clay made into pots, and perhaps even the site of an ancient kiln. In 1607 the estate was acquired by Robert Grant, and it remained in his family for the next 255 years.
The Limepotts estate consisted of the House of Limepotts, where the Grants lived, and the Farm of Limepotts, also known as Parkfield. James Ewen is named on the 1797 Horse Tax Roll as a resident of ‘Parkfield of Limepots’ and owning four horses, two of which were liable for duty. David Grant ‘of Limepots’ (1716-1806), the land owner, follows him in the list with two horses. I don’t know when James became the tenant there, but certainly by 1795, and maybe much earlier.
A letting ad in the Perthshire Courier of August 1809 describes the ‘farm of Limepots’ as having 172 acres, 81 of which were suitable for arable, 26 for pasture, and 65 ‘muir’ (moorland), as well as “a fall of water fit to drive a threshing mill”. The next time it was let, in 1828, it was described as “particularly well-adapted for a dairy farm”, and some of the crops grown included wheat, oats, hay and turnips. Its proximity to the important city of Perth, just across the Tay, was also noted as an asset.
Perth was something of a hotbed for religious dissenters in the eighteenth century - the Statistical Account of 1796 mentions the town accommodating Scots Episcopals, English Episcopals, Cameronians, Anabaptists, Burgher Seceders, Anti-Burgher Seceders, Relievers, Balchristians and Glassites. One of the leading seceders, following Ebenezer Erskine out of the Established Church in 1740, was William Wilson, the Minister at Perth and founder of the Associate Presbytery there. This group experienced its own split in 1747, giving rise to the aforementioned Burghers and Anti-Burghers, the latter of which formed the Perth Associate Church, and it is among their records we find the seven Ewen baptisms.
These children were Margaret (1795), Elizabeth (1797), Jean (1799), John (1801), James (1803), Robert (1805) and Helen (1809). All were baptised in the Perth Associate, probably by the Minister there, Alexander Pringle (1752-1839), or perhaps by his colleague, Richard Black (1753-1839). Five of the children (missing Elizabeth and Helen) were also recorded at Scone (usually a couple of weeks later but in one case two months, and in another several months later). Whether this was a second baptism or just a local recording of the Perth christening, I’m not sure.
Limepotts, although in a little southern enclave of Scone Parish, was surrounded on three sides by the parish of Kinnoull, which did have its own Anti-Burgher meeting house built in the late 1780s, but had no minister. Scone, meanwhile, played host to a meeting house for Burgher seceders (with a minister), but it’s within the records of the village’s Established Church (newly built in 1784) that five of the Ewan children have their baptisms recorded, as well as their parents’ 1793 marriage.
Scone is small but looms very large in Scottish history. It is famous for being the place where the kings of Scotland were crowned, including Kenneth I in the ninth century, Robert the Bruce in the fourteenth, and Charles II in the seventeenth. In the eighteenth century the manor and lands at Scone were the property of the Earls of Mansfield, and it was the third Earl (1777-1840) who, in order to make space for his grand new palace, constructed a new village of Scone about a mile to the east of the old village. This included, starting in 1804, moving the parish church, brick by brick, to a new location, which may explain why Robert Ewan, though born on 27 June 1805 and baptised in Perth three days later, did not have his baptism recorded at Scone until January 1806.
I can’t yet say for certain that James Ewan was born in Perthshire, but he married and had his children there, and his only census appearance (in 1841) merely confirms that he was not born in Fife. Perthshire was fairly well populated with Ewans and Ewings - a broad overview of the available indexed Old Parish Record baptisms awards Perthshire the sixth highest density of the name’s various spellings among Scottish counties (though as high as second if just the Ewan/Ewen spelling is counted). Over half of that Perthshire total are to be found in just two parishes - Fowlis Wester, twelve miles to the west of Perth, and Errol, eight miles to the east (which holds the earliest extant parish registers, including the marriage of David Ewin and Gils Symson in 1562, the earliest surviving ‘Ewing’ record).
The history of the Ewing surname (originating from the Gaelic Eoghain) is largely bound up in the history of Clan Ewen of Otter, formerly of Loch Fyne on the Cowal peninsula in Argyll, and later of Lennox (Dunbartonshire) after losing their lands to the Campbells. Perthshire, meanwhile, had the Ewans or MacEwans of Clan MacDougall, and the Ewynes, MacEwans or Ewans, who were actually Camerons of Erracht. Whether my own Ewan ancestry has its origin with either of these, or another Ewan clan altogether (there are several), I don’t know, but it’s certainly an interesting web of intrigue for me, a Ewing with the middle name of Cameron who married a Campbell!
Another strand to examine to help solve the Ewing history is DNA. Autosomal DNA links currently reveal very few Ewing connections, indicating that either not many descendants have tested, or that the line was not highly prosperous. There are possible links to a Ewan family of Errol, but they are distant and yet to be confirmed, though the clues are tantalising.
The Y-chromosome offers another pointer. Presuming the genealogy is correct then the Limepotts-Dysart Ewan-Ewing line belongs to the R-L21 haplotype (a branch of the very common R1b haplogroup), and particularly the R-S190 subclade, indicating they belong to the unique ‘Little Scottish Cluster’ group of families. Even within this group the Ewan-Ewing Y-chromosome has a number of unusual markers - there’s more detail on DNA at the end of this piece.
Perhaps another clue to James’ family might be found in his fellow religious dissenter Ewans at Perth. An Ann Ewen, married to John Wilson, had children baptised at Perth Associate in the late 1780s and 90s. Her father was John Ewen, a ‘wright’. The identity of this John is not certain, however he may have been the John Ewen, wright of Chappelhill (on the road from Errol to Perth) who married Isabel Campsey in 1743, and perhaps had a second marriage to Janet Blair in 1756.
Another Ewen having children baptised at Perth Associate in the same time period was Jean Ewen, married in 1796 to William McLaren. Jean was the daughter of James Ewen, a weaver in Perth. A James Ewan, weaver, is recorded in the 1766 Perth ‘Survey of Inhabitants’, also noted to be a seceder. And another dissenter James Ewen is the father of another James Ewen, baptised in November 1770, one of a handful of candidates for our own James. Sadly no mother is mentioned, but the Perth Associate archive records a Peter Ewan baptised seven years earlier to a James Ewan and Margaret Runciman, which seems to be their only recorded appearance anywhere.
There is yet another intriguing James Ewan, described in 1812 as the possessor (with John Maxwell) of the farm of Upper Springfield - of great interest because its land borders Limepotts.
Meanwhile, if we look to the Kirk at Scone, an Elisabeth Ewan can be found marrying Gilbert Watson just over a month after James Ewan and Helen Clark in 1793. Although her parents remain unrecorded, strong candidates given both her age and locale are the aforementioned John Ewan and Janet Blair of Chappelhill. The fact that James and Helen named their first recorded son John might also point in that direction, but it can’t be relied on as evidence. The Watsons died in Kilspindie in the early 1840s, and their only known child, Andrew, died in 1835, though he did leave a small family behind.
Unfortunately, despite tantalising speculation, there is nothing concrete - just a tenuous theory or two that might point to James’ origin being more towards Errol than anywhere else. The Anti-Burgher Perth Associate Church drew the majority of its congregation from the surrounding countryside (as opposed to the Burgher proclivities of the city folk), where “many walked or drove every Sunday from Errol, Rhynd, Dunbarney, Forteviot, Forgandenny and Tibbermore”, until they got their own churches closer to home.
Finding out what happened to James and Helen’s children has been almost as difficult as trying to discover where the family came from. Of the seven I can only be certain of two - my 4x-great-grandfather, James, and his sister, Margaret.
Margaret, the eldest child, married Peter Henderson from Orwell in Kinross. Her family appears on the 1851 census and gives Margaret’s surname as Ewing and a birth of around 1795 at Scone. Another piece of corroborating evidence is the fact that her brother, James, named his youngest son Peter Henderson Ewing (b.1846).
I can find no marriage for the couple but that may be because, like her parents, Margaret was a member of a dissenting church - their daughter, Helen, was baptised at the Pathstruie Associate in 1820. In 1851 they were living in Ballingry, Fife, and had two children with them - James (b.1824) and Peter (b.1842). Another child, 14-year old Margaret Henderson, lived nearby as a house servant to a local farmer.
There is no sign of the Henderson family on any subsequent census returns, but the reason for that, I discovered after many years, seems to lie with another daughter, Jane, born around 1828. In 1849 she married William Duncan and they had two children in Scotland before emigrating, with William’s widowed father, to the United States in 1851. Sadly, a week before their arrival in New York, their eldest son, also called William, died at sea, aged just two years old.
It seems that Peter Henderson must have died sometime between 1851 and 1853, and in that latter year, the widowed Margaret Ewing and her children - James, John, Margaret and Peter - boarded the Golden Age, a new steam ship making its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, and followed daughter Jane to the States.
After a short while in Illinois, by 1860 the Duncan and Henderson families were with each other in Dodge County, Wisconsin. Within a year the US was thrown into civil war and it seems likely that the youngest of Margaret’s sons, Peter, volunteered in the Wisconsin 23rd Infantry, seeing plenty of action and even being taken prisoner by the Confederates at one point. He later lived in Montana, working as a quartz miner.
With their mother most probably deceased, in 1870 two of the Henderson brothers, John (now with a wife and several children) and James, moved west to Green Lake in Minnesota, taking possession of a plot near Lake Elizabeth - soon to be known as Lake Henderson. Only eight years earlier the locality had been in the grip of a violent conflict with the native Sioux tribe - a world away from Limepotts and the churches of Perth and Scone.
The Hendersons saw out their lives in the small community around Spicer and their children prospered, married and spread out across the States. Jane and William Duncan stayed in Wisconsin, having a number of children and descendants - including, in more modern times, the actor and comedian Chris Farley (1964-1997) of Saturday Night Live fame. DNA links with these lines seem to confirm the Ewing connection.
Returning to nineteenth century Scotland, and sister Jean Ewing appears on the 1841 census in Dysart with her parents, age ’35’, and apparently unmarried. No further trace can be confirmed … unless she is the 69 year-old Scotland-born Jane ‘Owens’ living with the Henderson brothers in Wisconsin in 1870.
Robert is likely to have died in Dysart in 1826. While the burial record gives no age or family, it states he was “in Gallatown”, where our Ewings were living by then, and there seems to be no other local candidates for that grave. His brother, James, named his next son Robert, in 1830.
As for Elizabeth, John and Helen - no identifiable trace can be found. There are one or two rather unlikely candidates for them in later life, and other feasible individuals have been researched and discarded. They may yet turn up, but it’s also possible, of course, that they didn’t survive into adulthood.
The baptism of Helen in Perth, August 1809, is the last confirmed mention of the Ewans in Perthshire. The very next day after her christening a notice appeared in the Perthshire Courier announcing the farm of Limepotts was available to let. The next Ewan record I’m aware of is the marriage of son, James, at Dysart, fifteen years later in 1824.
It would be interesting to know exactly when the family left Scone Parish. And why to Dysart rather than, say, Perth or Dundee? Was there a connection there? Did family or friends precede them?
There were a handful of Ewings already in the Dysart area, but none I can connect to the Perthshire family. Andrew Ewing, or Ewan, from Burntisland, with Isabel Salmon, had children in the parish in the late 1700s, and the other main Ewing family in the town during the 1830s and 40s was that of Andrew Ewing, or Ewan, and Hannah Greig, he being, possibly, a grandchild of the Andrew just mentioned. They lived by the Dysart Salt Pans, and one rainy day at the end of 1871 Andrew slipped on the treacherous path to his house and badly hit his head. Two months later he dropped dead at work, age 68.
James was 21 when he married Margaret Todd in the Established Kirk at Dysart in June 1824, and three months later a boy was born to the couple, also called James. For the vast majority of the Ewing/Todd children the witnesses at the baptisms were from Margaret Todd’s family - mostly her brothers-in-law and cousins, and none with any evident Ewing or Clark connections. For baby James it was Alexander Nicolson and William Rentoul - William was Margaret Todd’s cousin, eldest son of her aunt Janet, and Alexander was a local weaver who, three years later would marry Margaret’s older sister, Mary Todd.
Weaving was a growing industry in the early nineteenth century in Dysart, and the work attracted many new residents, the majority working on looms in their own homes and a large number living in the small village of Gallatown, just over half a mile to the north of Dysart town. James Ewing was listed as a weaver on the 1832 Register of Voters, proprietor of his own home and garden in Gallatown.
By that time he’d had another three children besides James: John (in 1826), Margaret (in 1828), and Robert (in 1830). Another son, Peter was born sometime around 1832, maybe a year or so afterwards, but sadly he didn’t live long, dying in June 1834.
It was in Fife that the name Ewing was first recorded for the family. All known Perth records - marriage and baptisms - were spelled Ewan (at Scone) or Ewen (in Perth). The earliest Fife records (1824 and 1826) gave the name of Ewans, and it is not until the birth of James’ second son, John, in 1826, that the name in the baptism book was spelled as Ewing. From then on it is almost always Ewing, with the occasional Ewans, last used for the family, with one or two later exceptions, in 1843. It would be interesting to know whether this change was instigated by the family, or if the spellings were merely at the whim of official scribes, local preference or pronunciation.
With the snapshot in time that is the 1841 census, the story of the Ewing family begins to move out of the shadows and becomes far less speculative. James (1803) is shown in Gallatown, Dysart, as a ‘linen hand loom weaver’ with his wife, Margaret, and children James (16), John (15) and Margaret (13) - all three hand loom weavers, Robert (10) - a pirn winder (a pirn was the weaver’s spool for the weft thread), Alexander and Mary (twins, 5), Helen (2), and five-month old baby Thomas.
Dysart had a number of specialities - at one time salt (for meat preservation) and nails (for ships) were thriving industries, but these had now declined to practically nothing. While coal was still locally mined, as it had been for centuries, it was the weaving of linen that provided much of the employment in the town and surrounding villages - mainly in the form of check and tick cloths, exported far and wide.
The work of the hand loom weaver was hard, noisy, and badly paid. For a mere five or six shillings they worked six days a week and often from four or five in the morning until ten or eleven at night. While some still worked in their own homes, many were starting to take up employment with larger manufacturers, with the first purpose-built factory in the town constructed in 1845.
James and Margaret’s twins, Alexander and Mary, born on 7th December 1835, were each given the middle name of Nicolson in reference to Margaret’s younger sister, Mary Todd, who in 1827 had married the previously-mentioned weaver, Alexander Nicolson. By now he had vastly improved his station in life and was a local land surveyor, having dealings with many of the town’s luminaries, including the biggest land owner of them all, the 3rd Earl of Rosslyn, James Alexander St Clair-Erskine. He also became secretary of the Gallatown Union Lodge, Baron Baillie, and Inspector of the Poor.
Sadly, towards the end of 1848, a wave of typhus and scarlet fever swept across the community, taking the lives of several children but also that of the 42-year old Alexander Nicolson. He left his wife with ten children, and no doubt many friends across the district.
The 1840s would see two more Ewing births - Jane Lin in 1843, and Peter Henderson in 1846 - but it would also see the deaths of James’ parents. In 1841 they can be found close to their son and his family (as well as Margaret Todd’s parents) in Gallatown. The senior James is listed as a labourer, with him and his wife Helen aged 75 (in this early census ages were often rounded down to the nearest five years). Also present is their daughter Jean, aged ’35’, her last confirmed appearance in the public record.
Helen died in February 1843. James’ death, like his birth, is less certain - he is most likely the James Ewing of Gallatown who was buried in June 1849, but there is also a James Ewans, a weaver in Dysart, who was buried in 1844. It’s probable this second James was the father of an illegitimate James Ewing, born to Grace Greig in Dysart in 1829, and who is otherwise rather absent from the records (including the 1841 census), but he could be the youngest son of Andrew Ewing and Isabel Salmon, the other, earlier Dysart Ewings.
The 1850s began with two marriages among James (1803) and Margaret Ewing’s children: Margaret (b.1828) married David Ross, a local collier, in July 1850, and John (b.1826) married Helen Duff in November.
The 1851 census shows James’ family still working in the linen trade: now in his mid-forties, James was a warper (setting up the warp thread, as opposed to the weft of the pirn winder), son Alexander (15) was a hand loom weaver, and Mary (15), Helen (13) and Thomas (10) were all pirn winders.
Sons John and Robert cannot be found on the 1851 census, but it’s possible they were out at sea as both became merchant seamen. John was certainly a seaman by 1852, gaining his First Mate certificate in 1857, and he would spend the following years alternating between the sea, the flax mill, and a grocery business. Robert gained his Mate certificate in 1857, First Mate in 1859, and became a Master and Captain in 1861.
The first Dysart-born Ewing of the family, James (1824), married at the end of 1852 to Jane Wright-Hammond. She had been born in Dysart to the unmarried Margaret Wright in March 1827. By that time her father, Thomas Hammond, had married another woman from the town and moved away to Edinburgh, so his liaison with Maggie Wright was very brief. He was a fairly well-to-do gentleman, born in England to a cavalry quartermaster, he worked as a clerk and property and insurance agent, later moving to Dundee (where he was clerk for the Nine Incorporated Trades) and then, in the late 1840s, to Canada. The story of the Hammond family is fascinating in itself, but this is not the place to tell it.
In 1853, as already mentioned, the elder James’ sister, Margaret, emigrated to the United States with her children. The Hendersons had also been living in Fife - at Kinglassie, just seven miles from Dysart, and then at Balbedie House in Ballingry, the home of Sir John Malcolm. With the death of his parents ten years earlier, and no obvious sign of the survival of any of his other siblings, this seems to have left James as the sole member of the Scone Ewings. His sister’s family would be remembered in Scotland with the name of Peter Henderson Ewing being passed down in the family for a further couple of generations.
The 1850s saw a number of grandchildren born for James and Margaret: eldest son James (1824) had James in 1853, David in 1855, Margaret in 1857, and Alexander in 1859; John had Margaret in 1852, John in 1853 (living just four months), James in 1854, and Andrew in 1857; and Margaret (Ross) had David in 1850, Margaret in 1855, and James in 1856.
This fourth generation were all born in the burgh of Dysart, (Gallatown and Pathhead) but by the end of the 1850s the elder James left the town and the weaving trade and moved with his wife and unmarried children to neighbouring Kirkcaldy, where he opened his own grocery shop in the High Street.
The second Wednesday in August was designated the annual shopkeepers’ holiday in Kirkcaldy, a day when families would take advantage of specially lowered rail fares to visit Perth or Dundee, or take a little steamer trip up the Forth. Some would pack a bag for the day and walk to Rumbling Bridge and Cauldron Linn, or out into the Lomond Hills.
In 1859 James’ daughter, Mary Nicolson Ewing (twin sister of Alexander), joined a small group to spend the holiday at Loch Leven, about 3 hours walk north-west of the town. Some two hours into the hike she fell suddenly ill, and unable to go any further she was left to rest at Kinglassie. When her friends returned later that evening they were shocked to discover her dead, and they had the sad task of bringing her body back to her father at Kirkcaldy. The cause was thought to be inflammation of the heart. She was just 23 years old.
There was further tragedy for the family four months later when eldest son James (1824) lost his eldest son, also James, six, to whooping cough, a cruel and infectious disease that took many young lives in the nineteenth century (an effective vaccine would not be developed until the 1920s).
The 1861 census shows the grocery business was now being taken up by more of the Ewing clan. The elder James continued with his shop on the Kirkcaldy High Street at Port Brae, assisted by 22-year old daughter Helen, and sons Thomas (20), and Peter (14). His son, James (1824), still living in Gallatown, had become a vegetable salesman, almost certainly for his father’s business, while second son and former mariner, John, was now a grocer and spirit dealer on the High Street in Dysart. Margaret Ewing’s husband, David Ross, formerly a collier, was also now a grocer and spirit dealer, on Mid Street in Dysart.
As well as vegetables and other food produce, part of the grocer’s daily business was in wine and spirits, an important revenue stream for shopkeepers like James Ewing since the 1860 Wine and Refreshment Houses Act was passed, leading to rapid growth in the off-licence trade. But sellers also had to be careful not to contravene their license, in particular the 1853 ‘Forbes Mackenzie Act’ which restricted public access to alcohol. James was accused, in 1859, of selling whiskey to an 8-year old girl (probably for her aunt), but luckily the case was dismissed. And daughter Margaret Ewing’s husband, David Ross, and son, John Ewing, were brought up before the Burgh Court for breaching the law at different times.
In 1862 an accident occurred that very nearly ended the lives of my three- and four-times great-grandfathers. The two James Ewings (then 58 and 37 years old), along with youngest son Peter (15), were bringing the shop’s ale van down The Path, from Pathhead into Kirkcaldy. Pulling the cart was a new young horse, and as they approached the East Bridge flour mill, the steep slope there caused the van’s covering to fall forward on to the animal’s hindquarters, frightening it, and causing it to flail about dangerously.
The two men climbed down and took a reign on either side of its head, but the horse bolted, dragging both Ewings along with it before it crashed on the brae by the mill gate, breaking its neck. Young Peter had jumped off and was safe, but the elder James had been crushed against the wall, had his leg run over by the wagon and was severely bruised. Son James was in a very bad way - his leg was broken, his face badly lacerated and he was not considered to be out of danger for some time - in fact it was three weeks before he was able to be taken back to his home in Dysart. The loss of the horse was a blow to the business as well.
It seems those Ewings who weren’t facing the dangers of the grocery business were instead seeking their fortunes, with no less risk, at sea. While John had come back into the town to work, at least for the time being, surviving twin Alexander Nicholson Ewing had become a seaman in the merchant service, following his older brother Robert who was, by now, in charge of a Leith barque, the Martha Elliott.
The Martha Elliott was a hard-working vessel. Under two previous captains in the late 1850s and early 1860s it carried goods from a string of British ports through the Straits of Gibraltar, round the southern European and northern African coasts of the Mediterranean, through the Bosporus into the Black Sea and the Strait of Kerch into the Sea of Azov. I’m not sure of the kind of goods it carried, except for one reference to 6,310 bags of sugar brought to Liverpool from Mauritius, a more distant location (especially with no Suez Canal yet) visited on more than one occasion in 1860.
All this sea-faring took its toll. In 1856, under Captain John Minto, the ship limped into Queenstown, from Tripoli, “leaky and much strained”. At the end of 1862, under Captain Aidie, it was run into by a steamer at Valencia, having to put into Barcelona for temporary repairs. By the start of the following year the Martha Elliott was under the command of a new captain: thirty-two year old Robert Ewing of Dysart.
In early March he was at Acre, arriving at Beirut on the 9th, and on the 20th he anchored at Jaffa, en route to Alexandria. Two days later Captain Ewing, with four hands, attempted to go ashore in a small boat. The wind was blowing hard and there was a considerable swell, making it too dangerous to steer through the narrow channel between rocks that was the usual route. Instead, Robert took the boat round the point, but he was not acquainted with the hidden shoals there and the little boat was dashed against a rock, splitting upon impact and then tossed over by a huge wave. Astonishingly, none of the seamen could swim, and Robert Ewing and one of the other hands drowned in the turbulent waters.
That wasn’t the end of the ordeal. A week later the Martha Elliott broke her cable and, despite the best efforts of the remaining crew, the raging storm threw the ship onto the sands where it was battered by the crashing waves and started to take on water. If it wasn’t for the immense bravery of two Jaffan locals who swam a rope out to the barque and brought the crew to shore, there would have doubtless been more casualties. The Martha Elliott itself was beyond repair, a total wreck.
The news of Robert’s drowning reached Scotland a week after his death. Robert’s father, grocer James Ewing, would perhaps have had some comfort to know that his son’s body, (as well as that of the other sailor) had been recovered from the sea and interred in the Protestant cemetery in Jaffa, with a funeral conducted by a local medical missionary, the Rev. Dr. Phillip, and in the presence of the British Consul there, Assaad Kayat.
The 1860s saw four more of the Ewing children married: in January 1865 Jane Lin Ewing, already three months pregnant, married Alexander Nicol Philp, a fellow Dysart native and a joiner by trade. Just over a year later Thomas Clark Ewing married a Wemyss-born girl, Janet Dall Young, a damask weaver in one of Dysart’s steam-powered spinning factories. January 1867 saw Alexander Nicholson Ewing back from the sea - at least temporarily - and married in Scoonie, the hometown of his new wife Elizabeth Walker, then working as a house servant for her mother’s cousin, Kirkcaldy surgeon Dr. Andrew Gray. And in 1868 Helen Clark Ewing married a Kirkcaldy joiner and widower, George Anderson. That was all of James Ewing’s children married - except for the youngest, Peter, who would never marry.
In July 1865 Jane Lin Ewing gave birth to a boy, Robert, but the future was not a particularly good one for the Philp family. Two years later, Jane was assaulted in Pathhead by a local clerk, Thomas Law. Thomas was actually her husband’s brother-in-law, married to Betsy Philp. He was ordered to pay £1 or face 14 days in prison.
The Philps were not together at the time of the 1871 census - Jane living next to her sister Margaret (Ross), and Alexander back in his parents house. A few months later Jane was represented by local Kirkcaldy solicitors D & D Pearson in an attempt to get the Dysart Parochial Board to support her, claiming that her husband “deserts her when applied to for support for herself and child”. The Board rejected the request, citing a doctor’s report that she was ill with erysipelas (a nasty infection affecting the skin) and should be entered into the poorhouse.
Jane got into trouble herself at home - appearing in court in May 1873 and pleading guilty for an assault in the “house of her father”. In January 1874 she was in front of the town Baillies again for attacking her own mother - at first throwing hot potatoes at her, and then striking her with the cooking pot and a poker. For this she pled not guilty but was charged and imprisoned for 60 days.
In 1877 Jane’s twelve-year old son, Robert, was ordered by the Inspector of Kirkcaldy to be sent to the Mars Industrial Training ship at Dundee, having been “deserted by both father and mother”. The Mars was basically a floating children’s home, converted in 1869 from a working battle ship to accommodate homeless and destitute boys until its scrapping in the late 1920s.
As for Robert’s absent parents, Jane Ewing seems to have disappeared to Dunfermline where she took a position as a domestic servant - she died in the poorhouse there in 1895, aged 52. His father, Alexander Philp, can be found in Markinch where he had two more children with one Mary Henderson - described as a ‘boarder’ in the census returns, but there is no doubt about the true nature of their relationship.
James Ewing and Jane Wright-Hammond added four more children, all girls, to their family in the 1860s and into the 70s - Mary in 1863, Jane in 1865 (she would only live two years, dying three days before Christmas 1867 after a week suffering from croup), Jemima in 1869, and Helen Jane in 1871.
The 1871 census saw the family and their five surviving children (Jane was four months pregnant with Helen at the time) living in Mid Street, Pathhead, with James employed as a floorcloth worker at one of three possible factories in the immediate locality (Nairn’s, Shepherd & Beveridge’s, or Hendry, White & Strachan’s - the number would double within three years). Since his accident nine years earlier he’d worked as a labourer for a gardener and then for a spirit dealer (probably his father), and he’d been a floorcloth worker for at least four years.
James’ eldest son, David, 16 at the time of the census, also worked in the floorcloth industry, as a tier (or tear) boy - his job was to spread paint onto the printing pads for the printer to apply the pattern to the floorcloth. Younger brother Alexander, aged 11, worked as a tobacco stripper, stripping the wet leaves from the plant and laying them out to dry.
Meanwhile there are hints that the elder James’ grocery business was not doing so well. He still lived on the High Street in Kirkcaldy but now, aged 67, he was described as a commission agent, probably selling goods locally on behalf a company for a percentage. In the same household was his wife, Margaret (66) and their sons, Peter, a labourer, and Thomas, described as the head of the household and a ‘power loom tenter and grocer’, with his wife, Janet, and children James (3), Janet (2) and Margaret (5 months).
In early 1875 Margaret (Todd) Ewing, then aged about 70, was the victim of a serious attack that almost ended her life. A man named John McDonald had come into town, wearing a sign announcing that he was ‘deaf and dumb’ and looking for work. He’d already caused a bit of trouble at the High Street pub of Robert Aitken and was put into the town’s cells for a few hours. Upon his release he made his way to James Ewing’s grocery and spirit shop, and made signs to Margaret that he was looking for a place to stay. She kindly pointed him to the nearest common lodging house, whereupon, without provocation, he struck her down with a heavy stick he was carrying. Mrs Ewing tried to rise but was struck down again.
McDonald was soon apprehended, but Margaret, attended by the local doctor, John Wemyss Morison, needed a number of days to recover - she had a three-inch cut on her scalp and had lost a lot of blood - but recover she eventually did. McDonald later confessed that he was not at all deaf or dumb and that he had spent over twenty years in a life of crime, admitting “there is not a blackguard on the road who has lived such a life of blackguardism”. He was charged for seventeen offences in total and sentenced to 18 months hard labour.
The danger of crime was not the only threat to the Ewing business. Two weeks after the 1871 census was recorded, son Thomas Ewing attended the half-yearly court in the town hall to renew his license to sell excisable liquors. The Inspector mentioned that the Ewing grocery “had lately been very badly kept”, to which Thomas protested, “I am not aware of anything of the kind”. Despite this the Baillie granted his application.
Thomas was to bear the brunt of a number of family tragedies over the next few years. In 1873 he and his wife, Janet, lost their two eldest children - James, aged 5, in January, and Janet, aged 4, in June - both from tabes mesenterica, tuberculosis caused by drinking infected cow’s milk (thankfully very rare today due to pasteurisation). In December 1878 Thomas’s wife, Janet, died, from eclampsia, three days after giving birth to a son, John. But Thomas remarried just under a year later, to Martha Duncan, and they would go on to have five children together, three of whom survived into adulthood.
Thomas seems to have left the grocery business behind, spending most of the decade as a power loom tenter, but his brother, Alexander Nicholson Ewing, had taken up the family trade after a number of years at sea in the merchant service, though not without difficulty. In 1878 he was brought up before the baillies for allowing alcohol to be consumed on his premises. At the hearing the officials made a point of saying it was “pretty well-known he had been in the habit of doing such things very frequently”, but, despite that, they seemed to be inclined to let him keep his license if he paid a fine. However, a month later Alexander was in court again, appealing the withdrawal of the license. Up in court directly after him was his brother-in-law, David Ross, accused of selling alcohol to two women before 8 o’clock in the morning.
The Baillies were keen to reduce the number of spirit and wine sellers in the community, claiming there were 121 licensed houses, including hotels and grocers’ shops for 9,124 inhabitants. Alexander’s advocate in court produced a petition on behalf of his client, signed by 100 local residents asking that his license should be renewed and, he added, “there is no licensed grocer in the neighbourhood”. When the sheriff asked how far off the nearest licensed house was, one of the baillies answered, “about 50 yards”! But the local grocery provided more private access to alcohol, especially for housewives who might add a wee dram into the shopping for “cooking purposes”.
Officials agreed that if a man of good character appeared before them to have his license renewed, there was not much they could do but approve it, but if there was any doubt and they had the chance to reduce the number of spirit sellers locally, then they would take the opportunity. Both Alexander Ewing and David Ross lost their licenses that day.
Not to be defeated, Alexander seems to have solved his problem by moving six miles down the coast to neighbouring Burntisland, where he took over the wine and spirit business of the late John Sutherland at no.116 High Street. Here he settled with his wife and three children (he’d lost two earlier in the decade) and announced in the 16th July 1879 edition of the Fife Free Press that he would be supplying “the finest quality of wines, groceries and provisions at most moderate prices.”
The local dignitaries’ troubles with alcohol sellers reflected the general view that many of society’s ills had the demon drink lurking somewhere behind them, a view that was not always wrong. On their side they had the Temperance societies that had sprung up in the late 1820s after spirit consumption tripled in the wake of duty on whiskey being halved.
This was all good news for makers of non-alcoholic drinks who were able to promote their wares, not only for their vitalising properties from local waters (the Lothrie was the source of a recently improved water supply for the people and businesses of Kirkcaldy and Dysart), but also for their crystal-clear virtuousness.
One local Kirkcaldy ‘aerated water’ manufacturer was G. O. Andrew, whose lemonade, ginger beer, orangeade and seltzer waters were almost certainly stocked at the Ewing grocery. It’s likely that the young David Ewing had some connection with Andrew, either working directly for him (they were advertising for a “stout young lad” around 1873 and 1874) or through his family’s grocery business. Either way, he seemed to be acquainted with another of Andrew’s employees, an ex-blacksmith called Henry Blackwood.
Blackwood got into the lemonade business in Kirkcaldy in the early 1870s, but in 1874 he moved to Dundee to take up the position of manager at a new company, the Dundee Aerated Water Manufacturing Company Ltd. This had been created several months before, taking over the site of the old Peter Herd soda works on Magdalen Yard Road, initially managed by another native of Kirkcaldy, Drysdale Reid and with shareholders primarily made up of various grocers and spirit merchants in the city.
Around the same time that Blackwood crossed the Tay to Dundee, so did the twenty-year old David Ewing, also to be employed, as a bottler, at the Dundee Aerated Water factory. By the time of the 1881 census David could be found living on Kincardine Street, half a mile from the factory, a tenant of Donald McIntosh, a former policeman - now grocer - and his wife Mary Ann Ogilvy. Mary was previously married to another grocer and spirit dealer, David Clark, who had been one of the founding shareholders of the Dundee Aerated Water Manufacturing Company. He died in 1875 and Mary re-married, to Donald, in February 1880, with David Ewing as a witness.
The other witness at that wedding was Mary’s half sister, Jane Gray - the two women hailed from Errol in Perthshire, their mother being Jane Ford, born there in 1816. When Mary Ogilvy was 5, her mother married a grocer from the ‘lost village’ of Pitmiddle, and they had two children - George in 1851 (who would eventually move to London) and Jane in 1854. A year before Jane’s birth, Mrs Gray was almost responsible for the destruction of Errol when she got distracted from her fireplace and a burning log dislodged and set fire to the bed. The flames caught very rapidly and swept down the street causing the destruction of six houses. As the local paper reported, “this melancholy catastrophe - unparalleled in the annals of Errol - has made an impression which cannot be easily effaced.”
Jane Gray and David Ewing would marry in September 1881, the second witness being Andrew Blackwood, son of the Aerated Water Company manager, Henry Blackwood, and a student teacher at the time. It’s a maze of connections, but it does show the role the Dundee Aerated Water Company played in bringing together David and Jane Ewing, my great-great grandparents.
David Ewing’s parents were still in Dysart and living in Mid Street at the time of his marriage to Jane Gray in Dundee. His father, James, was a floorcloth worker, possibly at Nairn’s factory in Pathhead which had started to make linoleum flooring in 1877, an industry that exploded over the next few years making the local area world-famous for its production. David was the first of his siblings to get married and while his younger brother, Alexander, had moved to Dundee to begin his career as a boilermaker, his four surviving sisters were all still at home.
The eldest at 24 years of age, Margaret, was noted on the 1881 census as an ‘imbecile’ - this was under a column that gave a choice of 1. deaf and dumb, 2. blind, 3. imbecile or idiot, and 4. lunatic. The latter terms sound quite harsh to our modern ears, but officials at the time intended them to have fairly specific definitions, though whether these were understood by the head of household who provided the information cannot be guaranteed. ‘Imbecile’ possibly meant someone who fell into mental infirmity in later life, and certainly Margaret is not marked as having any such ailment on the 1861 or 1871 census returns. She may have been subject to fits, one of which could have left her partially brain damaged by this time, and indeed seven years later, aged 31, she died suddenly as the result of such a convulsion.
David’s grandparents were still living at the time of the 1881 census, back in Dysart on West Wynd. James, aged 76, worked as a hand loom weaver, while his wife Margaret, aged 75, who had survived the violent attack in 1875, would only live a few weeks more, dying at the end of May. While she was the youngest of her sisters, she was the first of them to pass away - her immediate older sister, Mary, died aged 79 in 1883, while her eldest sisters, Helen and Jean, both died in October 1893 aged 95 and 91.
It seems as a widower James moved round the corner to Back Street, probably to live with his eldest daughter, Margaret Ross, and her family. Her husband, David, now out of the grocery business, was working as a general labourer, while a number of the children had work in the weaving and floorcloth trade.
One Saturday early in February 1883, the elderly James Ewing left his home in Pathhead and made his way to Burntisland to visit his son, Alexander Nicolson Ewing, still running his grocery business on the High Street there. At the time Alex’s wife, Elizabeth, was five months pregnant, looking forward to what would turn out to be a little brother for their two surviving girls, Betsy (12) and Isabella (9).
James left the grocery shop in the early evening to visit a friend in East Leven Street, but his family started to worry when the night grew late and he still hadn’t returned. The reason became apparent by the light of the following morning when a body was discovered on the shore at the foot of the Lammerlaws rocks. James Ewing was dead.
It turns out he had left the friend’s house at about 10.30 the previous evening - the night was dark and hazy, and while he’d been guided part of the way back, once he’d been left on his own he seems to have become lost. Perhaps he went up Kirk Gate and then turned down Back Street by mistake, following it to Links Place, or perhaps he’d just continued along East Leven Street. Either way he ended up following the Lammerlaws road all the way to Gallowhill, going through the gate there and falling over the rocky edge in the foggy darkness by the flagstaff.
A death notice in the Fife Herald included the line ‘American papers please copy’, presumably in the hope that it would reach his older sister’s Henderson family, though there’s no sign of its appearance across the ocean, and no sign his now ageing nephews and nieces, thirty years gone, were aware of any family news from the old country. James was just three months shy of his 80th birthday, and his death severed for good the Perthshire origins of the Ewan-Ewings.
By the end of the 1880s there were fourteen Ewing-descendant families in Scotland, with eleven in Fife (ten still in Dysart, one in Kirkcaldy and one in Burntisland), plus one in Dundee and one in Midlothian - though this last would be back in Dysart by the time of the 1891 census.
The census, taken on 5th April, saw James Ewing (now a garden labourer) and Jane Wright-Hammond as the family elders, aged 65 and 63 respectively, and still living with their three youngest daughters - Mary (27), Jemima (21) and Helen (known as Nelly, 19), all linen weavers. Jemima would marry in December, to William Henderson, a french polisher from Kirkcaldy, and they had three children in the town during the 1890s. Sadly Jemima would be widowed in 1901, but would live to 70, dying in Kirkcaldy in 1939.
Jemima’s older brother, Alexander, had married Ann Clark in Dunfermline in 1888, and the new decade would see five of their six children born (with one, Bernard, only living a year). After a little while in Dundee, Alexander was now back in Dysart, though still working as a boilermaker, an occupation he would largely keep until his death in 1940.
The eldest brother, David Ewing (my gg-grandfather), was now firmly established in Dundee, still a bottler at the Dundee Aerated Water Manufacturing Company and living at 19 Union Place. He and Jane Gray had five children - all boys, James (my great-grandfather), George Gray, David, Alexander (who died in 1895, age 6, from meningitis), and John Bruce. The children would all attend the local Hawkhill School where, in 1890, David Ewing’s friend, and son of his works manager, Andrew Blackwood, had his first teaching job (eventually becoming second master there before leaving in 1907). James Ewing in particular may have been partly influenced by Mr Blackwood to become a teacher himself. After their time at Hawkhill the children, at various times, moved up to the Harris Academy in Park Place, where James did particularly well, passing exams in subjects such as Theoretical and Practical Inorganic Chemistry, Mathematics, Magnetism and Electricity and Freehand Drawing.
David’s uncle John Ewing (the elder James’ brother) was in Dysart with a growing family - most of his grown-up children now had families of their own - while John himself, at age 64, worked as a pilot out of Dysart harbour. His sixth child, Robert, married his cousin, Betsy Gray Ewing, the eldest daughter of Burntisland grocer, Alexander Nicholson Ewing, in August 1893.
Unfortunately, Betsy’s father did not live to see her wedding. Five months earlier he left his High Street grocery at 8 o’clock in the morning and followed the train track out of the town eastwards to Bentfield. There he waited until the morning express train approached and, as witnessed by the driver of a goods train travelling in the opposite direction, he rushed forward and laid his neck upon the rail before the oncoming express. As the Fifeshire Advertiser rather elaborately put it, he “resolved to test the frailty of the human constitution when opposed to the power of things of human invention”, or, as the Fife Free Press reported more bluntly and explicitly, “head and body were completely severed”.
The supposed reason for this terrible act was that Alexander was greatly troubled by the dull state of trade in the town and its effect on his business. I can’t help but also think how, besides two of his babies, he’d lost his twin sister, Mary when she died out on the shopkeepers’ holiday all those years ago. In addition, from where he was at Bentfield, he could look across the bay and see the place his father had died ten years before, falling from the Lammerlaws in the fog. In the end, perhaps even his close family didn’t know the darkness that overcame him on that March morning. Alexander was described as “a quiet and inoffensive man” who was “well-known and much respected.”
Alexander Ewing’s daughter, Betsy, and her husband Robert, had their first child, John, in Dysart in 1896. Around this time Robert was working as a ship steward on the SS Loch Leven - he’d started his working life as a baker, and after working at sea on the windjammers for a while, moved his family to Leith and resumed his original trade, having four more children with Betsy in the next decade. Robert’s father, John Ewing, now retired from being a pilot, had also moved out of Dysart to the Lothian area, as had his children John Ewing and family, Alexander Ewing and his wife, Agnes, and his daughter Mary and family.
John Ewing (senior) died in the Craigleith Poorhouse, in Edinburgh, in July 1909, aged 83. In the 1930s an old sea-faring colleague foggily remembered him as “a nice, quiet, civil old chap [who] always had a kindly smile and a nod for everyone.”
Of John’s generation, the children of James Ewing and Margaret Todd, Thomas Clark Ewing died in 1907, age 66; Margaret (Ross) died in 1910, age 82, and my ggg-grandfather, James Ewing, died in 1912, age 87. This left just two of the 11 siblings - Helen Clark Ewing (Anderson), who would die in 1917, aged 78, and Peter Henderson Ewing, the youngest, who would die in 1931, age 85.
James had remained in Dysart and was described as still working (a general labourer in 1901, a garden labourer in 1911). Two of their daughters remained with them, Mary and Nelly, both still linen weavers. Mary didn’t marry and died in 1911 at 48. Nellie had a child out of wedlock in 1904, Jane Wilkie, and then married in 1921 to a Kirkcaldy carter 17 years her junior, James Bell.
James’ wife, Jane Wright-Hammond, would die in 1909, age 82, and by the time James himself passed away, in 1912, he’d been in the local combination workhouse for a couple of months. At 87 he’d outlived five of his eight children, including his eldest surviving son, my gg-grandfather, David Ewing.
David died in 1902, aged 47, from heart failure after almost a year suffering from progressive muscular atrophy, a rare subtype of motor neurone disease. Around that time, he was living with his wife, children and mother-in-law (Mrs Gray would die six months before David, at 86 years old) in Seafield Road, still working as a lemonade bottler at the Dundee Aerated Water Manufacturing Company - he’d worked there for 28 years. His second son, George, was also a bottler at the plant, aged 16.
David’s eldest son, James (my great-grandfather), was a student at the Edinburgh Church Training College where he was studying to become a teacher. His first appointment was as an assistant teacher at Leven Public School, in Fife, in 1902. During his time there, in the summer break of 1903, he joined the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Royal Scots, training at Stob Camp near Hawick. He returned to Dundee, to South Road Public School, Lochee, in 1904, and then the following year a little further north to Downfield. He graduated in 1906, and in July 1907 he married a confectioner’s assistant and daughter to a Dundee market gardener, Jemima Rough Phillip. In 1908 James made the shortlist for headmaster of Strathmartine School, but didn’t get the position. He and Jemima had their first child, Jean Gray, in Dundee in 1908, and a couple of months later the family moved out of the city after James was appointed by the Aberlemno School Board as headmaster at Pitkennedy.
In 1910 James Ewing was chosen from sixty applicants for his next position - an appointment he would keep for the rest of his working life - as headmaster at Kinnell School, near Friockheim. Their second child - my grandfather, James David Ewing - was born in September 1912 at their home, the Schoolhouse, with the birth certificate signed by his father as he was also now the registrar for the parish.
Two months after the birth of my grandfather, in November 1912, a somewhat bizarre and terrible tragedy fell upon one of the daughters of Thomas Clark Ewing, James’s great-uncle. Mary Ewing had married a tailor, William McFarlane, in Dysart in 1896. At the start of the new decade they were living on Hill Street in Kirkcaldy, and soon had four children, two girls and two boys. One evening, early in November, Mary asked her eldest daughter, Jessie, to finish plaiting her younger sister’s hair, while she made up the kitchen bed. Lying on top of the bedclothes was a small-bore rifle that belonged to the lodger, Joseph Smith. She was quite used to the gun lying around, but as she picked it up to move it from the bed it suddenly discharged, firing up into her chest.
Her daughters and her husband - who had been in the next room - heard Mary cry out and then saw her staggering through the doorway - “I am shot!”, she gasped, before falling into her shocked husband’s arms. Jessie ran for the doctor while William laid his wife on the bed, but by the time Dr Nicholson arrived she was seeing out her last breaths, and when a second doctor, Dr Curror, turned up moments later, she was dead.
The lodger, Joe Smith (born Joseph Stephen McIntosh), was out at the time of the accident, claiming he normally unloaded the gun before entering the house, and had left it out with the intention of cleaning it later. Joe was something of a notorious local character. In the first decade of the 1900s hardly a month went by without him, often with a brother or two, being the subject of a piece in the local papers, usually in connection with poaching, but also for burglary, violent attacks, and even a prison break. On more than one occasion he’d pulled a loaded gun on his victims, including, once, a policeman. A couple of the pieces recorded how he was known to keep his rifle in separate parts in his pockets, with one attack on a Dunniker gamekeeper detailing how “drawing the barrel of a gun from his pocket he struck [the gamekeeper] a heavy blow on the top of his head … causing a wound six inches in length and exposing his skull …”. Mary Ewing’s husband, William McFarlane, had even spent six months in prison for receiving some cloth that had been stolen by Joe’s brother - he would have been released just three months before his wife’s death.
Joe had married in 1902 and had children, though by 1912 he and his wife were living apart, she having already had one child with another man and another on the way. After the shooting Joseph moved out of the McFarlane home to Hill Place, but within a month of the death of Mary Ewing, Joe would be dead as well.
He was returning from Thornton to Kirkcaldy, when he stopped by the Redhouse Cottages to tie his bootlace. He was still in the habit of carrying the two parts of his New Century rifle in his pockets, and it seems as though the remains of a sandwich, also in his pocket, lodged in the trigger as he bent down and the gun went off into his stomach. In great pain, Joseph lay on the road in the bitter cold for some time before a milkman discovered him, got him to a doctor, and then he was sent off to Edinburgh Infirmary. After three days of agony and infection, he died.
His estranged wife marked his death with a notice in the local paper, proclaiming, “speak not of what he did amiss, for which of us can say, that we have never done a wrong, or stumbled on life’s way”. Was it a half-eaten cheese sandwich that ended the life of Joseph Smith, or had the ghost of Mary Ewing had a hand in his demise? Whatever, his life of criminality was at an end - but if you don’t believe in ghosts, then you just might have to blame the sandwich …
George Gray Ewing was prospering at the Dundee Aerated Water manufacturing plant - by 1911 he had gone from lemonade bottler, as his late father had been, to foreman, and by 1912 he was manager and living on the premises (Henry Blackwood had died in 1909 after 35 years as company manager).
In 1914 the ego and stresses of empire burst across Europe and the world went to war. George Ewing seems to have been exempted from service, probably under the ruling as a “reserved occupation of cardinal importance for the maintenance of trade and industry”, as was his older brother, James, a schoolmaster. George married, in 1915, to a police detective’s daughter, Davina Aiken, and they had two children - Phyllis in 1915 and David just before the war’s end in 1918. James, meanwhile, involved himself in local fund raising for causes such as the Red Cross and the Belgian and Serbian Relief Funds. Part of this included a turn at singing a patriotic song or two at various events, including the traditional ‘The March of the Cameron Men’ and a more recent wartime hit, ‘Where Are the Lads of the Village Tonight?’.
Their two younger brothers, David Ewing and John Bruce Ewing enlisted together, in November, into the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). The brothers had both recently returned from trips to the Americas, and both worked as clerks - David for Keiller (of marmalade fame), and John for a mill furnisher. John served with the 149th Field Ambulance for two years and suffered non-serious shrapnel wounds to his hands and face. David was with the 3rd Highland Field Ambulance and would have been present at Festubert, the Somme and Beaumont Hamel before being discharged in 1917 with dysentery.
A number of the Ewing cousins also served. These included John Ewing, the eldest son of Robert and Betsy Ewing, with the 16th Royal Scots - he received a shrapnel wound to the left knee and right foot and was sent home where, after a stay at Leicester Hospital, he was assigned to the Labour Corps, before returning for a short while to the front with the RAMC.
Betsy, the daughter of grocer Alexander Nicholson Ewing (who had taken his own life in 1893) had lost her mother in 1916, and then she herself died in 1917 from heart problems, aged just 46. Her younger brother, James Ewing, a Territorial before the war, had enlisted in 1914 with the 7th Black Watch before transferring to the 3rd Seaforth Highlanders. In March 1916 (a month before his mother died) he was discharged, suffering greatly from shell shock. Sadly, while convalescing he developed meningitis and died in March 1917, aged 33. He was buried in a war grave beside his parents in Burntisland.
A second cousin of my g-grandfather - John Ewing, son to John Ewing and Helen Low of Leith - was with the 14th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders when he was wounded and went missing at Vaulx-Vraucourt in March 1918. He didn’t turn up again until January 1919 - he’d been a prisoner of the Germans, and ill-treated, he claimed, leaving him with an injury to his knee. He’d go on to serve in Egypt and Turkey later in 1919 before being discharged to the Reserve in November.
Another cousin was Alexander Ewing - who sadly didn’t return - the son of Alexander Ewing and his wife Ann Clark who lived in Cowdenbeath. He was with the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in Egypt (later formed into the 14th Battalion Black Watch) where he died from dysentery in December 1917. He’s buried at the Deir El Belah War Cemetery in Gaza (50 miles away from his great-uncle Robert Ewing, buried at Jaffa in 1863).
John Edward Martin Hills was the great-grandson of Margaret Ewing and David Ross - his grandparents had moved down to London in the late 1870s and he was born at Bermondsey, later working as a biscuit baker there. He initially joined the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry at Deptford, but was soon transferred to the 6th Wiltshire Regiment. They landed in France in July 1915 and at the end of August and into early September the battalion were under constant light rifle grenade fire, with a handful of casualties on most days. It is likely John was one of these, and he sadly died from wounds on 7th September, a couple of weeks before his regiment saw their first big action at Loos. He is buried in the cemetery at Le Touret.
A couple of Ewings served with the Canadian forces. Thomas Clark Ewing and Peter Henderson Ewing were carpenters and half-brothers, the sons of Thomas Clark Ewing (1840-1907) - their sister was Mary Ewing, who had died in the gun accident back in 1912. Peter went out to Canada in 1906 (following his elder brother, John, also a carpenter) and enlisted with the 11th Canadian Mounted Rifles in March 1915. He was transferred to the 7th Battalion Canadian Infantry and sent to England and then France, where he took part in the battle for Vimy Ridge, suffering a gun shot wound to his right knee. He was sent back to England to recover and was eventually demobbed, in Toronto, in July 1919. After the war he moved to Washington State, and died in California in 1975, aged 88.
His brother, Thomas, had married in Dysart in 1904 and then left for Canada in 1907. He enlisted with the 103rd Battalion at the end of 1915 and was later transferred to the 10th Battalion Canadian Railway Troops, landing in France in June 1917. During active service Thomas suffered from a severe gas attack that left him blue-lipped and with coughing spells at night, and he also suffered a couple of inguinal hernias that had to operated on. During the operation it was discovered he had valvular heart disease and he was discharged to care. In mid-1919, within a month of his final discharge from the army, Thomas’s wife Joanna died and Thomas himself would die, aged 46, in 1923. His death was recorded as ‘related to service’ and he was given an official war grave in the Ross Bay Cemetery.
He left an 11-year old son, Thomas, whose story was not a happy one either - he ended up back in Scotland, enlisting with the Royal Tank Corps for a few months and then getting some work as a motor mechanic, but also finding himself on unemployment benefit and frequently homeless and sleeping in cars (sometimes stolen). He died in the Fife and Kinross Asylum from tuberculosis, aged just 24 in 1936.
Also across the Atlantic were the separated Henderson cousins, the descendants of Margaret Ewing who had emigrated to the States back in 1853. Among these was Maurice Henderson, born in Minnesota in 1894, a sergeant in the Marine Corps, stationed for a time at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Although he doesn’t seem to have fought in Europe during WWI, he made the military his career and was a high ranking officer in the Second World War, eventually retiring as a colonel in 1954.
Maurice’s older brother was Walter Horton Henderson, born in 1892. After school and some farm work, he ended up in Montana working for the Home Lumber Company, and in September 1917, six months after the US entered the Great War, he volunteered and was assigned to the 362nd Infantry, 91st Division, at Camp Lewis. On Christmas Eve of that year he married, and in June 1918 he was mobilised, arriving in England in July. After a short while Walter was off to France where he spent their first few weeks in the battle-torn country training for what was to come. What was to come turned out to be hot battle - St Mihiel, where 300 Americans were lost, and then, constantly under the threat of German planes and gas, on to the Argonne and Epinonville. On the 29th September the Division found itself in action at Gesnes, battling enemy soldiers holding the Kriemhilde Line. It was here that Walter lost his life - he was last seen scouting ahead of a ridge occupied by his company. Walter’s grave, along with over 14,000 of his fellow US servicemen, can be found at the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery near Romagne-sous-Montfaucon in France.
By the end of the Great War, all but one of the third-generation Ewings (the children of James Ewing (1803-1883) and Margaret Todd (1805-1881)) had died, the exception being the youngest, Peter Henderson Ewing. He never married and seems to have had a few run-ins with the law in his younger days - a breach of the peace in 1878, for which he was imprisoned, and the same ‘in his father’s house’ in 1880. In the 1891 census he can be found as a prisoner in the cells of Scoonie police station. In 1911, in his sixties, he was an inmate of the Kirkcaldy Combination Poorhouse, suffering from persistent lumbago, the same place his oldest brother would die the following year.
Peter was three years old when his grandfather, James Ewan of Limepotts, passed away, and he himself lived until the age of 85, dying in Kinghorn, Fife, in November 1931. It’s tantalising to think what he may have known of the now lost Perthshire history of his family, when my own grandfather (Peter’s gg-nephew) - if they were even aware of each other - was just entering his twenties.
By the post-war period, the surviving branches of the Dysart Ewing clan had drifted and spread. The general picture seems to show a fair number staying around Kirkcaldy and Fife, with some laying down new roots in Edinburgh and Glasgow, one in London, another in South Africa, five or six families settling into Canada and a couple crossing into the US.
Robert Ewing, who had been widowed in 1917 with the death of his wife (and cousin), Betsy Gray Ewing, remarried in January 1918 to a widow, Ellen Anderson. He’d given up the bakery trade to become a shale miner, living in one of the Hillwood Cottages in Ratho and working at the nearby Ingliston pit (now under the runway of Edinburgh Airport). Three years before the pit was closed, in 1923, Robert was lucky to escape with his life when a loosening shot he was about to explode blew without warning, burning him across the chest and arms. He had a few days in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, but survived. He would outlive his second wife (who died after a scalding accident) by 19 years, dying in 1949, aged 83. His three daughters, Elizabeth (in Canada), Helen and Isabella (both in Edinburgh), all lived long lives, dying in 1989, 1998 and 2000 respectively, all at the same age of 89.
My own immediate Ewing forebears appear to be the only ones to have become a Dundee-based family. Of the four surviving children of the late David Ewing and his widow, Jane Gray, only the eldest two had families of their own. The youngest, David Ewing and John Bruce Ewing, lived with their mother at Dalhousie Terrace on the Perth Road until her death in April 1939, five months before the start of World War II. They continued to live at the same address together until their own deaths - John, the youngest, in 1957, aged 65, and his elder brother David at the beginning of 1966, aged 79 (three years before my own birth, he lived the longest of the Ewing brothers).
George Ewing continued as manager of the Dundee Aerated Water Manufacturing Company, living on the premises at Magdalen Yard Road with his wife, son and daughter. In 1930 the entire factory was demolished and rebuilt, all while manufacturing continued on site. The rebuild included a new home for the Ewings above the office, including a roof garden. The factory itself boasted a two-way lorry-path, a cider store, and an automated system that, as reported in the Dundee Courier, sounds like something out of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’:
“… the bottles are carried on gravity conveyors to a huge tank containing a strong solution of soda. After a thorough cleaning they pass to an automatic brushing machine, and finally emerge from an automatic rinser ready for filling with a variety of aerated waters … the freshly cleaned bottles are put into a machine which performs automatically and in rotation the functions of syruping, filling and crowning. An average of 120 dozen bottles per hour is produced by this machine … the bottles and syphons are then labelled and placed in boxes, which are carried by another gravity conveyor to the output loading-bank ready for distribution to the public.”
Within a couple of years the business had gained a license to expand into alcoholic beverages, and they even tried to introduce their own trendy ‘table water’ called Vinta. As well as overseeing the successful business, George Ewing became the president of the Dundee and District Aerated Water Manufacturers’ and Beer Bottlers’ Trade Association. In January 1960 George died at 75, and by the middle of the following year the Dundee Aerated Water Co. was voluntarily wound up. He had been manager for almost 50 years, and the company itself had lasted for over 87, with Ewings involved from its very beginning to nearly its end.
George’s wife, Davina lived four more years, dying aged 78 in 1964. Their children, Phyllis and David, didn’t marry, and lived together until their deaths in 2003 and 2004, reaching 88 and 85 years of age. As for the aerated water factory, after it closed the site was used for a dry-cleaning business and then left empty before being demolished. It lay as waste ground for a couple of years until 2015 when a unit of 12 modern flats were constructed on the land.
James Ewing continued his busy community life at Kinnell. As well as head teacher and parish registrar, his list of positions and achievements included, at various times, clerk of the Parish Council, president of the Arbroath Branch of the Educational Institute, committee member of the Friockheim Horticultural Society, member of the Central Forfarshire Boy Scouts Association, delegate for the Scottish Savings Workers, session clerk for Kinnell Church, president of the Progress Football League Association, secretary and treasurer of the Miniature Rifle Club, vice-president of the Friockheim Men’s Social Club, and Right Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge Bruce (Friockheim).
He was also a keen early adopter of radio and a member of the Dundee Wireless Club (founded in 1921 in Magdalen Yard Road, just down from the Aerated Water plant). James hand-built his own three-valve, quarter-kilowatt wireless crystal set, resulting in a unit that was thirty times more powerful than the commercial sets that were just coming on to the market. A feature in the Arbroath Herald of September 1922 detailed how he could hear music, messages and morse code from Croydon Airport, Paris, Africa and Moscow. A couple of months later he walked the seven miles from Kinnell to Arbroath in the rain to give a talk on wireless to the Arbroath Scientific Society, where he was described as a ‘pioneer in the district’.
He often let the children of Kinnell School come and listen in after the day’s schooling was over. In 1923 he tuned into W.G.Y in New York, an early US commercial station that featured music, speeches and live play adaptations, and the following year the children were able to listen to King George’s speech at the opening ceremony of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley through Mr Ewing’s set (an estimated 10 million people listened in all over the country, and a BBC tape of the speech became what was probably the UK’s first electronic recording).
James and Jemima’s children, in the meantime were all doing well, proceeding in turn from Kinnell to Arbroath High School and being almost as busy in the community as their parents. Eldest daughter Jean took part in local amateur dramatics as well as being a patrol leader in the Girl Guides. She won medals at school for her French and Greek and passed into St Andrews University, the first girl from Kinnell to do so. Here she won the botany medal and gained her MA at 19 years old, “bringing distinction”, as the local paper reported, “to the parish”. Jean followed her father into teaching, working at Arbroath High School and then Parkhouse. In 1934 she married a teacher from Wales, John Edward Morgan, at Kinnell Parish Church - “the first wedding to be held there in living memory” (other Kinnell marriages had been held at the manse, the Station Cottage, Muirside and other nearby places, but not at the church).
James (or Jim), my grandfather, studied electrical and mechanical engineering at Dundee Technical College before getting a position with the Dundee Corporation Electricity Department, working in their distribution and generation departments and eventually becoming a shift charge engineer. While working he also went back to the college as a lecturer. In June 1939, after a lengthy courtship, he married my grandmother, Margaret Horsburgh Cameron, a shorthand typist for a Dundee jute firm.
Jim’s younger sister, Eileen, also a regular prize-winner at school, trained as a nurse at Dundee Royal Infirmary, completing her training just a couple of months before the eruption of the Second World War. A year into the conflict she was drafted down to England to help at Battersea General Hospital in London. In June 1944 Eileen married an engineering draughtsman, Norman Baxter Taylor, the son of the Kirriemuir postmaster, at Downfield in Dundee.
The youngest daughter, Edith (known as Kay), a talented singer in her school days, worked for a while in the offices of Douglas Fraser & Sons in Arbroath, the famous producer of machinery for various textiles, including jute, flax and hemp. When the war came, at the age of 20 she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF), being promoted to sergeant a year later. In 1947 she married a dentist (and son of a headmaster) from Carnoustie, Duncan Alexander Henderson.
All James and Jemima’s children had families of their own, and all, at some point, left Scotland. After her marriage, Jean moved to Lowestoft where John was a teacher at the Roman Hill Senior Boys’ School. Jim became the assistant secretary for the Electrical Power Engineer’s Association in 1947, headquartered in Bristol, and three years later he and his family would move to Reading in Berkshire. Eileen and Norman moved down to Bristol where Norman worked for the Bristol Aeroplane Company, and Eileen at the Stoke Park Hospital. Youngest sister Kay and family ended up in Newport in Wales.
Their father, James Ewing, retired from teaching at the end of 1945. For 35 years he had been the headmaster and parish registrar at Kinnell - though it’s interesting to note that in 1924 he had applied for the headmastership of Forfar East School but wasn’t successful. He and Jemima moved back to Dundee, to Argyle Place - within half a mile of his brothers, midway between their homes on Roseangle and the Perth Road - and then later across the river to ‘Cairndhu’ on Provost Road in Tayport. James died there in February 1960, aged 77, two weeks after his younger brother George had died in Dundee. Jemima lived to 88, dying in Norwich, while staying with her daughter Jean and family.
My Granddad continued to live and work in Reading, where he and Margaret were also heavily involved in the ex-pat Scots community centred around St Andrew’s Church - he was treasurer of the church and a lay preacher, as well as president of the Reading and District Caledonian Association. I have my own (now vague) memories of attending various Highland-themed functions as a small boy, at least once in a child-sized kilt.
Another interest of Jim’s was the Loch Ness Monster - he loaned his boat to famed amateur cryptozoologist Tim Dinsdale, a fellow Reading-based Scottish engineer and the author of several books on the myth, so he could carry out further research out on the loch. In 1968 Mr Dinsdale gave a presentation to the Reading Caledonian Association resulting in 80 per cent of the members present voting that the Monster was “real”. My grandfather was quoted in the local news report: “We are quite serious. This is not a plot to get people to take their holidays and things in Scotland.”
Granddad Ewing retired with my Gran to Selsey, near Chichester, where he died in November 1984, aged 72. Margaret later moved back to the Reading area, and died in Dereham, Norfolk, in 2007, aged 93. Of Jim’s sisters, my great-aunts, Kay died in Tayport in January 2000, aged 80, Jean in Norwich in July 2001, at 93, and Eileen four months later, in Bristol, age 85.
The story of the Ewings is the story of many families that came through the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries - tenant farming in the countryside of Perth, moving to a more urban area as industry started to take hold, first weaving by hand, then by machine as the factories sprang up, seeking prosperity with their own businesses, and then, finally, moving to the big city, with industry becoming automated and living standards on the rise.
The parish records of Perth and Scone provide the earliest glimpse of the family, the High Street groceries the cause of profit and hardship, and a lemonade factory is responsible for the existence of my quarter of the Ewings, and perhaps even for the slight rise in status that education gave to my grandfather’s family. The story doesn’t end there, but then neither does it start at the Perthshire farm of Limepotts … the search goes on!
There are two kinds of DNA that are useful for research into the Ewing family. Autosomal DNA (atDNA) comes from each parent to form 22 pairs of the child’s chromosomes, so they end up with 50% of their father’s and 50% of their mother’s DNA. atDNA is only useful, really, for delving back seven or eight generations, as the DNA linked to more distant ancestors, if it survives being passed down, will be quite small.
The 23rd pair of chromosomes are sex chromosomes - the mother will always pass on an X chromosome, but the father could pass on an X or a Y. If it’s X then the child will be born female (XX), if it’s a Y then the child will be born male (XY). This means Y-DNA is very useful for tracing the paternal line, which, historically and culturally, tends to go hand-in-hand with the family surname (though not always, of course).
Descendants of the Ewings don’t appear to have been very numerous DNA testers, or if they have it’s from far-flung branches that I’ve not been able to connect in any meaningful way. I share 50% of my DNA with my father, and 25% with his sister, my aunt. I share 4.17% with a known second cousin - our common ancestors being our great-grandparents, James Ewing and Jemima Phillip, born in the 1880s. I share 0.33% with someone in the 5th cousin area - our shared ancestors being James Ewing and Margaret Todd, my gggg-grandparents, born just after 1800. That might not seem like a very large chunk of DNA, but 0.3% is significant enough to confirm the family line back that far.
More interestingly, I share some DNA with a couple of people who are descended from the Hendersons who emigrated to the States in the 1850s. One is 0.2% (a 5th cousin once removed) and the other is 0.12% (a 4th cousin twice removed), the latter figure just on the edge of being a genealogically significant amount. Along with another couple of Henderson families that match with my father and aunt (but not me), it confirms a DNA link with our most distant known ancestors, James Ewan and Helen Clark, born c.1765-70.
But can we get beyond the limits of our current genealogical research with DNA? While it’s possible that atDNA might show a link with someone a generation or two further back (and there are some possibilities that require more research), we can also turn to Y-DNA to find out more. This gives us almost too big a leap back in time - but it’s still interesting.
Y-DNA is very slow to mutate, so it can remain identical as it is passed from father to son over many generations. The particular patterns formed by the DNA sequences in Y-DNA are identified and sorted into haplogroups. Men that share the same haplogroup are more closely related - and haplogroups themselves can be split into smaller subclades, indicating an even closer relationship.
Presuming the patrilineal line reflects the genealogical research, and there are no unrecorded fathers creeping into the line (the atDNA results suggest it’s accurate that far, at least), then the Scone-Dysart Ewan-Ewings belong to the larger R1b-L21 haplogroup, originating with a population of Atlantic Celts who thrived during the Middle Bronze Age. We can actually delve quite a bit deeper than that as the Ewing Y-DNA also tests positive for the subclade R-S190, meaning we are part of a smaller group termed the Little Scottish Cluster, who can claim a common ancestor living, probably in the Perth or Stirling area, around 1200 years ago.
Currently, the deepest subclade we have for our Ewings is several branches further down called R-FT16096. We test negative for the currently-known two subclades of this haplogroup, and we have a number of unique markers that will probably give us our own descendant haplogroup once it can be defined. The closest Y-DNA matches in the database at the moment probably share a common ancestor with us sometime back in the 1500s (give or take 100 years).
Until then, what does DNA tell us? It confirms that the paper genealogical record so far is sound, and it tells us the Ewings have been a Scottish family for the best part of a thousand years, and probably further back than that.
If you have further information, stories or photos, or are a family member who would like to know more, please get in touch.