The game is currently in Early Access, but you can download a demo from the CE Steam page, read more about the award win here, and see the current trailer here. I can also highly recommend PalicoPadge's playthrough series on YouTube.
Is this a brand new story? No - this is the same story that was serialised in The Phoenix Comic back in 2013 (issues 75-78), though I have re-edited a bit of the text, and re-written and re-drawn large parts of two pages (pages 17 and 22 in the book).
Is this a full-length album? The actual Secret of the Samurai story is 20 pages long, but the album also contains two other short stories I wrote and drew (both of which have been published before): The Sword of Truth (2004, 6 pages) and The Girdle of Polly Hipple (2005, 4 pages). The album is 36 pages in total.
What is the book's availability? I'm not sure on this yet - as I write the album is not currently on the BD Must site. The French language edition is listed on Amazon. A crowdfunder for the French edition was successfully funded back in May on Ulule. I do know the print-run is not large, and that it's smaller for the English language edition. I will update this when I know more.
What's the story about? Briefly it's a mystery about the hunt for a missing set of samurai armour, and it takes place before The Rainbow Orchid. For more details and notes you can see some of the blog posts I wrote at the time it was serialised in The Phoenix Comic (note - some of the info in these posts is no longer accurate!): The Secret of the Samurai FAQ, blog post for part 1, blog post for part 2, blog post for part 3, and blog post for part 4.
I'll end off on the other question I get all the time (and no, I'm not tired of it, it's lovely), Will there ever be a new Julius Chancer adventure? The answer to this is yes, as long as I don't get knocked down by a bus (or whatever the modern-day equivalent is ... an Amazon delivery robot?). I'm still very busy at the moment working on The Curious Expedition 2, but I haven't forgotten Julius Chancer - the new story is all-plotted, semi-scripted, and drawing started (extract below). I fully intend for this new story to happen ... I just don't want to promise when!
A couple of weeks ago Maschinen-Mensch released Curious Expedition 2 on Steam Early Access, meaning players could have a test run of the still-in-development game, providing feedback to help identify and fix bugs and to be a part of shaping the eventual full release. It's been an enormous relief to see the overall reaction so far has been positive, with a lot of useful feedback from players that I think will only make the game even better as development continues.
Now the game is out in public, I think I can show some of the work I've been doing with the team at Maschinen-Mensch (though see their Twitter feed for much more). It will also interest, I'm sure, a lot of my Rainbow Orchid and Julius Chancer readers, in fact any fans of ligne-claire comic art and adventure stories.
The original Curious Expedition (still available and still supported) is a 'roguelike' expedition simulation set in the late nineteenth century. You have a team of explorers, you have resources, you have a map and lands to explore, and you have goals to attain. Curious Expedition 2 is much the same in principle, but with many improvements in game-play, story, character development and scope.
The biggest outward difference is the graphics. Whereas CE1 is a pixel art game, CE2 is going for a ligne-claire style (think Tintin, Blake and Mortimer, Tardi, Joost Swarte, maybe even a little Moebius), giving it a European bande-dessinée feel. This has also opened up the options for graphic detail, including facial expressions and gestures for the characters, and a whole new arena for animation and interaction.
Maschinen-Mensch started out as two people, Johannes Kristmann and Riad Djemili, and they pretty much created CE1 on their own (Johannes did all the amazing pixel art, which still informs the feel of the sequel). Due to the game's success and support from their new publisher, the Swedish Thunderful Games, they've been able to expand their full-time team to eight people, as well as a coterie of freelancers - including myself. (You can meet the team and see an introduction to the game on this video here).
Although I may be doing a large chunk of the actual drawing for CE2, what you see on the screen is the result of a close and overlapping collaboration between many minds. Johannes is the Art Director - and while I do have some creative input at the concept stage, I'm very much channeling Johannes's strong vision for the game and working closely under his guidance. You could say he's the brain and I'm the hands. Many of the special effects and the wonderful atmosphere applied to the in-game scenes are the work of technical artist (and horse expert) Laura Brosi, and the fantastic (and often funny) character animations are created by animator Katarina Czikorova. But the whole team make contributions in every area, with the end result drawing from every quarter of the production. It's no good just seeing a screenshot of CE2 - the game is the character, interaction, movement, music, feeling and story that all come together to result in the overall experience.
The core of the game is the narrative you create as you play. Characters will form traits and attachments; empathy and cultural respect is encouraged and rewarded. The dice-based combat system is great fun, and there's even a 'saving roll' aspect which especially appeals to me as an old Tunnels and Trolls player. On one of the missions you can even go in search of the rainbow orchid.
Coming from a largely publication-based world, as I do, the learning curve and challenges I've faced on this job have been enormous, but very rewarding. There's a whole host of technical limitations and parameters to take into account, but also, of course, things you can do that you just can't on paper. To see a character I've drawn, with its separate arms, legs and head, come alive after Katarina has been at work on it has seemed like magic at times (and I won't even get into the sorcery of the programming side). Other challenges have included the scale - drawing scenes for 4K (and above) resolutions - and the integration of various changeable elements: 2D characters, scenery and locations in a world with perspective.
While the map is mostly the work of Johannes, I have contributed hand-drawn visuals to that area too, as well as some dice icons and the inventory items - so there's been a wonderful variety of art tasks that have kept me busy over the many months I've been involved. I've had nothing to do with the lovely fin-de-siècle influenced interface, the work of Johannes and Sandrine Dubois.
There has been a little negative reaction to the new art style, of course, and - besides just the normal difference in people's personal tastes - this largely comes from a few fans of CE1 who are very attached to Johannes's pixel art, which is understandable! Of course CE1 is not going anywhere and is still available - but there seems little point in re-making the same game, and it's hoped that the new art style may appeal to a new and wider audience, to whom pixel art may seem less accessible, catering more to a core of retro-gamers. I've seen some comments about the 'vector art' of CE2 - I'll clear that up: it's not vector art. Really, it's still pixel art ... just a lot more of them!
Curious Expedition (no connection with The Lost Expedition card game, by the way) is an enormously ambitious venture, and I've seen some of the blood, sweat, tears and dedication that the whole team have devoted to make it a reality - the work that's gone into it already is mind-boggling. There's still more to do, but you can now give the game a test drive and see it's paid off. I feel incredibly honoured to have a part to play in this project, not to mention the great experience of working alongside Johannes and the rest of the Maschinen-Mensch team. The finished product is going to be awesome.
You can buy Curious Expedition 2 (Early Access) on Steam here.
"The said John Bozell's way of life is mostly in pretending to tell fortunes, and fraudulently getting people's money by telling them, that by giving him such a sum of money, in such a place they shall find a great sum, and has brought a great many ignorant people to ruin."
Although there are other candidates, it's possible his son, John, was the 'Black Jack' Boswell who gave rise to the later famous Derbyshire Boswell clan. But that John was said to be a brother to other well-known Boswells of the period, Lawrence, Bartholomew and Edmond, and there are other names in the ring for their parentage too. But it could at least be said there is a close link with another historic Boswell - Shadrach the soldier, who was likely press-ganged into service as a result of the Vagrancy Act, and fought the French in Canada in 1779 - he may have been a cousin.
It seems fairly well accepted that John and Edmond were brothers and variously went by the name of Boss, sometimes also called the 'Kak' Boswells, on account of a lazy eye, or eyes of a different colour. One daughter went by the title of 'Gall-Eyed Licia', and I tend to blame the Boss family genes whenever yet another photo of me emerges with one of my eyes half-closed.
Edmond was the husband of Eldorai Boss, reputed to be a sister of Shadrach. One of their children was Eliza, and she became the wife of Anselo Boswell (often recorded as Joseph Boss), the son of Edmond's brother John. Anselo's siblings included Viney, Hairy Tom, Black Ambrose and John - the latter, or his father, claimed to be 'The Flaming Tinman' of Borrow's popular Lavengro, but it was more likely to be the son given that his age was "not much under fifty".
John Boss (the father) has been recorded as marrying one Mary Newberry in Loughborough, Leicestershire, in 1780, but this seems unlikely. Mary's maiden name was Wood, and she married the recently widowed William Newberry, a Loughborough butcher, in 1775. They had a daughter, Parnell, in 1776 (she would go on to marry a cavalryman and then work in the Royal household), before William died in 1779. In 1778 he had taken an apprentice, John Boss, most likely his cousin, and it was this John, apprentice butcher, who married the widowed Mary Newberry in 1780. Little of this has the Gypsy stamp upon it.
Anselo and Eliza had a number of children baptised across Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Lincolnshire and Cheshire. One of these, in 1812, was Mary Ann Tracey, known as Tresi. In 1832 she married William Sherriff at Rugeley, Staffordshire, allegedly a mumper - a slightly derogatory term the Romanies used for someone less than a true Gypsy, a beggar, a vagrant, a hedge dweller. But the Sherriffs themselves have a pedigree of travelling, at least back into the beginning of the 18th century. Some of these Sherriffs married into the Hodgkins and Clayton families, and others into Tresi's Boswell clan. William Sherriff's sisters, Patience and Ambretty, were both wives at different times of Tresi's uncle, Hairy Tom Boswell.
William and Tresi had a dozen or so children, with several marrying into 'good' families - Claytons, Hollands and Boswells. Youngest son Hope married Trinity Boyling, the daughter of "tale-teller" Absalom 'Appy' Boswell. In 1903 Hope and three of his sons were apprehended for the murder of a policeman - Hope was acquitted but the three sons ended up in prison on a charge of manslaughter. One died during his sentence, while another, Thomas, came out to fight in the Great War, only to be killed on the first day of the Somme.
The Gypsyologist Thomas W. Thompson wrote that "no marriages have been recorded" for four of the Sherriff children - Alfred, William, Lorcni and Joseph. My own research shows that William had a son with an Ann, and then lived for a number of years with an Elizabeth Allen, before being killed in a fight at Ripley. As for Joseph, he was my 3xg-grandfather, and he married Eliza Johnson at Uttoxeter in 1871. Eliza was a widow previously married to Joseph's cousin, Joseph Clayton, son of his aunt Ann Sherriff.
Eliza had three children: Alfred, Mary Ann Tracey (who died age 4), and Charlotte (my gg-grandmother), all born before she married Joseph Sherriff in 1871. But were they the children of Joseph Sherriff or Joseph Clayton? If it's the latter then I am not descended from the Boswells at all, and I'll have no one to blame for my sometimes-lazy eye. Both Josephs were chair makers, and both had fathers called William, also chair makers. Furthermore, daughter Charlotte recorded the maiden name of Claydon on seven of her 11 children's birth certificates.
Although they married in 1871, Joseph Sherriff was with Eliza and the eldest child, Alfred, on the 1861 census. Joseph's age and birthplace are consistent with previous and later census returns to indicate he is the Boswell descendant. Even so, this is thin evidence in the Gypsy world where facts are often made out of nothing better than sand. But further research into first husband, Joseph Claydon, puts it almost beyond dispute. In 1846 Claydon was apprehended for his involvement in a violent house robbery over a year before - he was found guilty and given the harsh sentence of transportation for life. He arrived on the remote Norfolk Island in September 1846, but seven months later he was dead from dysentery. This may explain the late wedding of his cousin to Eliza if they did not know his fate.
My gg-grandmother, Charlotte Sherriff, married William Hodgkins, her first-cousin once-removed (Charlotte's grandmother was also William's aunt), and though they went on to have 11 children, only five survived into childhood, and only three of those into older age.
My great-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins, survived WWI but died a few years later, age 34. He had two daughters by then, including my Granny, May. Both her and her second daughter, my Mum, always claimed their dark hair was a sign of their "True Romany Gypsy" heritage, even though by then the names and stories had been mostly forgotten.
More on my Gypsy family history here.
One new aspect is a deeper study of the context for my earliest-known Ewing ancestor, James Ewan, probably born sometime around 1765. I look into more branches of the family, including my discovery of an early branch that emigrated to the United States. I examine the Ewing trades a bit more closely - including linen weaving, the grocery business, and those who went to sea. Thanks to better resources for newspaper research I've been able to bring a lot more of the Ewing story to life with some of the more colourful characters who had aspects of their life reported. I also take a general look at what the Ewing DNA is able to reveal.
Writing the history helped to clarify a lot of aspects - the general movement and spread of the family groups, the importance of the trades my forebears worked in, and the backdrop of industrialisation, city life, and social mobility. It's given me a far greater understanding and appreciation of the lines and threads that weave back behind me.
While I'm aware it will have very limited appeal to most people (even my own family members!), you can have a look at it here, if you wish.
You can do a Rainbow Orchid maze to find the Trembling Sword of Tybalt Stone (pdf) or to recover the statue of Idrimi, King of Atalah (pdf). Or you could try your hand at the snow leopard dot-to-dot (pdf). When you've done those, you can test yourself with the Rainbow Orchid word-search (pdf).
(By the way, if you get really stuck, here are the spot-the-difference answers!)
Most of these are perennials - albums that are intertwined with my history, burned into my neural pathways in some way, or chained to particular times or emotions. It's a tough decision, and many favourites have been left behind. I worry there's not enough diversity here - because actually my music collection is very diverse. But from this I was formed, and that's the way it is.
Matthew was just nineteen years old at the time and working as a collier, probably at the nearby Clough Head pit. Although his father came from Marsden, he'd been born in Manchester, with his five younger siblings (three sisters and two brothers) born at various places - in the city, in Colne or in Marsden itself - reflecting his father's search for work which alternated between the core local industries of cotton weaving and coal mining, not always with success.
The door was answered by the shoemaker's wife, 77-year old Mary - she didn't know who this young man was, shouting and being generally abusive in his intoxicated state, but she managed to get him out and shut the door. Her husband was still away in Burnley on business, but was expected back soon. Perhaps she was alone, but it's possible a young relative, 15-year old John Thomas Wells, was also present.
Henry and Mary don't appear to have had any children, but they seem to have been responsible for bringing up young John - the illegitimate son of Isabella Wells who may have been Mary's niece - and trained him as a cordwainer (he later moved to Accrington and became well-known for his political debating skills).
Forty-five minutes later, Henry Hillary returned home from Burnley, but as he entered through his front door, Matthew Higson suddenly appeared and pushed in after him. The two men argued, with Matthew again becoming abusive and refusing to leave. At some point it became too much for the 79-year old Henry Hillary and he rose and slapped the young intruder across the face. Matthew responded by jumping up and kicking the old man in the stomach, forcing him back down in to his chair where, in excruciating pain, he exclaimed he'd been "killed" and that this was his "death blow".
Henry was put to bed but spent the night vomiting blood and "other matter". Despite the efforts of a local surgeon from Colne, Dr. Henry Buck, Hillary was in pain all the next day and then finally, in the very early hours of Monday morning, his words were borne out and he died.
The inquest was held a week later, in Marsden at the Merry Colliers (known as the Marsden Cross in more modern times), just down the road from Catlow Row where the incident took place. The district coroner, John Hargreaves, travelled from Blackburn, and Dr Henry Buck travelled down from Colne. Also present as witnesses were the widow, Mary Hillary, the deceased's apprentice, John Thomas Wells, a local stone mason, Robert Binns, as well as a David Spencer and one Margaret Smith.
Dr Buck, who had qualified as a surgeon three years previously and was a third generation medical man in the locality, had performed a post mortem on Hillary and gave the surprising evidence that the old shoemaker had suffered a ruptured intestine two or three months before the attack. It was his opinion that the kick had "nothing whatsoever to do with the deceased's death" and that the old rupture was to blame. The pain following the kick, the doctor said, was "entirely accidental".
In accordance with this evidence the verdict returned by the jury was one of "accidental death by a rupture", and Matthew Higson escaped a possible manslaughter conviction which could have carried a sentence anywhere from twelve months with hard labour to transportation for life.
Mary Hillary, Henry's widow, died just over a year later, aged 78. Matthew Higson, my ggg-grandfather, having only just survived a serious accident at the local Clough Head pit, married within a month of the old widow's death, and went on to have seven children (six girls and one boy). While the events of October 1847 were not Matthew's last brush with drink and the law (though none were again connected with such violence), he does seem to have had a lucky escape from a very tragic incident
Reading this story, which was reported in the Blackburn Standard and the Preston Chronicle (no inquest reports have survived, just the coroner's expenses record), it seems amazing that Matthew Higson's kick to the stomach had no part to play in the death of Henry Hillary, especially given the awful reaction the elderly victim had through the following night, and I found it hard to believe my ancestor's terrible conduct didn't have some part to play in this tragic tale.
It would be the obvious reaction to think that Matthew killed Henry Hillary that night and that a harsh custodial sentence should be the result, and no doubt those must have been the thoughts of many going into the inquest that day. That was my reaction when I first came across the story. But as I read the article more closely and researched the findings given by Dr Buck, I gradually changed my view. It was Buck who examined the deceased and noted the "mortification" of the intestine - in other words, it was in an advanced state of decay, the result of weeks-old impeded circulation at the site due to a previous injury.
While it does seem impossible to imagine the young collier's kick had no effect at all, without that old rupture the kick might have merely thrown Hillary back into his chair with no serious damage done. There can be no excuse for Matthew Higson's aggressive behaviour that Saturday night, and I have no doubt my ggg-grandfather did give Hillary his 'death blow'. Was Matthew horrified at what he'd done, or ambivalent? Had he caused the death of a friend or a stranger? Did he go for the doctor himself or did he run away? We'll never know what the argument was about or what their relationship was. But perhaps the bare facts of the case did prevent the wrong conclusion being jumped to, and some thin strand of justice - if it can be called that - was pulled from this terrible event.
I hadn't realised that my Belgian-based publisher, BD Must, had run a crowd-funder earlier this year to produce the binder, and as it funded at 225% production went ahead and it's available. Plus I now have a few books to add drawings to for the top-tier funders.
The centre-spread art for the binder is from an early draft of the cover for volume 3, produced for Egmont long before I finished the album, but required for various advance publicity things, so it doesn't quite reflect what eventually appeared in the actual story. It's nice though!
In the following article I'm going to record (perhaps solely for my own benefit) how I broke down a twenty-year brick wall, as well as highlighting the clues that revealed the facts and a couple of wrong turns I took, while hopefully offering some routes that may be helpful to others in a similar situation. Warning: this is still a work in progress, may contain errors, and does not necessarily constitute an end result!
When I started researching the Camerons back in 2000 I made fairly quick progress through the usual route of birth, marriage and death certificates (along with a few letters from a great uncle and a photocopy of a family Bible). My great-grandfather was Peter McDougall Cameron (1881-1923), his father was Peter Cameron (1856-1913), and his father was Donald Cameron (1810-1887), with the family hailing from Perthshire, particularly Clunie, where Donald was the Church officer. At Donald I hit a brick wall - and he currently remains one (though I have a small book's worth of research and theories that I'm hoping will click one day and unlock the answer).
But I was even more intrigued by Donald's wife, Catherine Campbell. The census returns gave her a birth date of around 1815 and her birthplace as France (though a British citizen). Her death certificate, from 1889, claimed her parents were Donald Campbell, a sergeant in the 42nd Regiment, and Barbara Stevenson. Anyone with a taste for military history will recognise the potential importance of the date 1815 - the year of Waterloo. Indeed, a family story claims Catherine was 'born at the battle of Waterloo', and the 42nd Foot were in the thick of it. In fact, the battle did not take place in France but in nineteenth century Netherlands (now Belgium), though afterwards the regiment moved to the vicinity of Paris as part of the occupying army, before returning to England in December, which may give some logic to the record of Catherine's French birth.
With these facts at hand I spent the next nearly twenty years trying to find and identify Catherine's parents, but to no avail. Perhaps the names on the death certificate were wrong, in which case my chances of finding Catherine's forebears were going to be next to impossible. Donald Cameron and Catherine Campbell were a brick wall so high that I started to accept I'd probably never be able to climb it.
On New Year's Eve 2018 I was in the house alone and found myself, yet again, making a fresh search for Catherine's parents - only this time something came up. I don't know if it was a new record, or just that my desperation was leading to more and more creative searches, but up popped an 1810 baptism at Musselburgh for one Alexander Campbell, son to a Donald Campbell, sergeant in the 42nd Regiment, and his wife Barbara Stevens. Seeing those names confirmed as real, after all this time, had a surprisingly emotional impact.
At last I had a contemporary account of my 4xg-grandparents, so I went into overdrive searching for any other trace of their existence. The standard searches continued to remain silent, but when I tried something a bit different I came up with another result. The above baptism of Alexander Campbell took place in Musselburgh in 1810, which coincides, unsurprisingly, with the location of the 42nd Regiment on that date. I decided to search the census returns for anyone named Campbell who was born in a known 42nd Regiment location, either at home or on campaign, within the early 1800s.
To my surprise I had some success and came up with a William Campbell, born in Gibraltar around 1808 - the location for the 42nd just before they embarked for the continent and the Peninsular War. A little research on this William, who also stood out to me because he was living in Perth, not too far from my own Catherine Campbell, seemed to confirm him as a 4xg-uncle - a brother for Catherine. He died in 1879 and his death certificate recorded his parents as William Campbell, soldier, and Barbara Stevens. I reasoned that 'William' was probably a mistake that should have read Donald (though I did make a note that I should allow for the possibility of a previous Campbell husband, even if that seemed unlikely). He had married Martha Hamilton in Perth in 1834, and one of his children helped to confirm the family connection.
In 1844 he had a son baptised as William Keir Campbell - significant because Catherine also had a child, a daughter, baptised in 1844 called Charlotte Keir Cameron. Neither of the children survived into adulthood, William dying in 1848, and Charlotte sometime before 1851. I'd often wondered about the name Keir, reckoning it must have had some importance to Catherine, so I decided to divert my attention onto that question for a bit - who were the Keirs?
I started my research looking at contemporary Keirs in the Clunie and Caputh locales of Perthshire and a promising family soon emerged. A William Keir, born in Caputh in 1760, married Helen Sangster in Clunie in 1798. One of their children was Charlotte Keir, born in Clunie in 1804. A niece, born in 1843, was called Charlotte Keir Lamont. William Keir lived a long life, and though he died in Rattray, where he worked as an inn keeper, his 1856 death certificate notes that he was buried in Clunie, certified by the Church officer there - Donald Cameron, my 3xg-grandfather. That seemed to seal it, though I could find no obvious family connection, and no evidence linking Catherine's brother William. They may just have been family friends, but certainly the connection was likely to have been with the Campbell parents.
It felt as though a long-empty canvas was now being slowly filled in, and I continued my searches with the few available records of the 42nd Foot in the early 1800s that were available online (particularly the regimental Description and Succession Books). From these there appeared to be only one Donald Campbell who was a sergeant in the right time-frame. He was born in Halkirk, Caithness, around 1781 or 82, and in December 1799 he'd enlisted with the Caithness Highlanders before serving in Ireland following the 'Rebellion'. After the militia were disbanded in 1802, he joined the 42nd Highlanders. There was a slight spanner in the works in that he did not appear on any of the rolls for Waterloo - even if he was killed there, or at the immediately previous actions of Ligny or Quatre Bras, he should have been on the roll, but perhaps he was wounded or sick, or maybe he was one of the men kept back on guard duty in Brussels.
As for his marriage to Barbara Stevens, that remained elusive, but an interesting newspaper article from the John O'Groat Journal of March 1883 provided a potential theory. It told how many of the Caithness Highlanders returned from Ireland and " brought home to Caithness Irish wives, and it is universally admitted that they were 'pretty women' and that many of the Caithness girls were not a little mortified to find that their old admirers had returned, already provided with spouses "
At this stage I had confirmation that Donald Campbell and Barbara Stevens/on existed, I was pretty sure that Donald was from Halkirk in Caithness, and I knew they apparently had three children, born in 1808 (in Gibraltar), 1810 (in Scotland) and 1815 (in France), and also that a Keir family had some importance to the Campbell children - but that seemed to be the limit of what I could discover for now.
With that I turned my attention back to later branches of the Cameron family. I had been slowly going through the families of Donald and Catherine's children, many now in Glasgow and Dundee, filling out their stories and keeping an eye out for any clues that might reflect on the families' past. Especially interesting were the children of daughter Barbara Cameron and her husband James Wilson. They had both died before the turn of the 20th century, leaving a young family largely in the charge of eldest daughter, Agnes.
I eventually got round to looking more deeply into Agnes's story - in 1906, at the age of 37, she married a 58-year old widower and ex-sailor called Archibald Wallace. They settled down and ran a local shop in Birnam near Little Dunkeld where they had two daughters (a previous son had died as a baby, and only one of the daughters made it into adulthood). Archibald died in 1925 and Agnes in 1950, both in Dundee.
To complete the story I was also looking a little into the families of the wives and husbands of the Cameron children and grandchildren, and I was particularly intrigued by Agnes's husband, Archibald Wallace, and his life as a merchant sailor. He'd been born in Argyll, the son of a candlemaker, and in 1879 he'd married his first wife, a young widow called Sarah Sim. A couple of things stood out on Archibald and Sarah's marriage certificate - Sarah's parents were recorded as George Sim, soldier, and Charlotte Keir, and one of the witnesses was James Wilson, house painter, and the father of Agnes Wilson who would become Archibald's second wife twenty-seven years later.
Besides the hint of a family relationship with Archibald or Sarah much earlier than was previously known, the name Charlotte Keir was surely no coincidence, and I immediately furthered my research into Sarah Sim and her family. George Sim had been a corporal in the 92nd Foot, but I could find very little about him, other than he married Charlotte at Perth in 1844 and seems to have died around 1850. Looking more closely at Charlotte was like a lock clicking open. She died in Perth in 1860 and her parents were recorded as William Keir, late of the 42nd Highlanders, and Barbara Stevens.
So Barbara had married again, staying within the regiment of her previous husband, Donald Campbell, and had become a Keir - a more concrete explanation for the middle name of her two grandchildren, William Keir Campbell and Charlotte Keir Cameron. Besides dismissing my previous Clunie-Keir discoveries (though I still wonder if they're part of the same wider Keir family) it also meant that Archibald's two wives were cousins (half first-cousins once-removed, to be precise, or to put it another way, their mothers were half-aunt and niece).
From there the research avenues opened up and the picture started to come into sharper focus. William had been with the 42nd Regiment since 1805, had served in the Peninsular war at Busaco, Fuentes d'Onoro and Ciudad Rodrigo, and was discharged while on service in Ireland in 1822. But unlike Donald Campbell, I found his marriage to Barbara in 1816, in Thurso, Caithness. The couple had four (known) children, half-siblings to Catherine and William Campbell: James and Charlotte in Ireland, and then Daniel and Frederick after William's retirement in Perth.
Looking for Thurso connections I found another surprise - Barbara Stevens had married a William Campbell, a soldier in the 42nd regiment, in Thurso in 1803. This changed things again - it seems the William Campbell born in Gibraltar in 1808 was not, in fact, a full brother to Catherine, but a half-sibling - the father's name on his death certificate had been right after all. So Barbara had three husbands within the 42nd Foot - William Campbell, Donald Campbell, and William Keir. This was not an unheard of situation in these years of the Napoleonic wars. Writing in 1841, ex-42nd Highlander James Anton had mentioned in his memoirs the plight of the wives on campaign who lost their husbands, " many a good woman, who in a few months, perhaps weeks, after her sudden bereavement, becomes the wife of a second husband."
Similarly Sheila Simonson mentions in her paper Following the Drum: British Women in the Peninsular War, "when a woman's [soldier] husband died ... the odds were good that she would remarry within the week." If a woman couldn't remarry, or if a job could not be found for her within the regiment, her rations would be immediately stopped and she and any children would be sent back to England without any further support, facing potential destitution and poverty. It's recorded that the highest known number of husbands a woman held in the Peninsular war was six.
To my delight I found William Keir and Barbara on the 1841 census, at Redgorton in Perthshire. By now William was working as a hand loom weaver, and while it showed their son James was born in Ireland, Barbara herself seems to have been Scottish, though not a native of Perthshire.
I also discovered a statutory death record for William Keir in 1857, in Perth, and that reminded me to check the very useful Perth burgh burial registers that were available at the Perth and Kinross Council website. Sure enough, William's burial was recorded, buried at the Wellshill Cemetery in Perth, but I also discovered a burial for his wife, Barbara (recorded as 'Kerr') - she died in October 1847 with the cause given as 'apoplexy' - a term often used for any sudden death.
By now I'd done a lot of research into the Keirs, but I was starting to dry up again on Barbara Stevens and had made no progress on her possible origins. One evening I made a tentative search in the Perth newspapers around the time of her death - knowing that obituaries and death notices were not nearly as common as they would later become, especially for women, so not expecting anything in return. Nothing was coming up until I really honed down the date bracket and just tried the name 'Keir' on its own - and I got a hit.
The Perthshire Courier of 4 November 1847 had a report on the sudden death of 'Mrs Keir', the wife of an [army] pensioner (explicitly named as William Keir of the 42nd Regiment in the Dundee, Perth & Coupar Advertiser version of the article the following day). She was returning home with a neighbour after putting out some washing on the green when she collapsed and died. But it gave up more ...
"Few women have endured more of the fatigues and hardships of life than Mrs. Keir. She was at the battle of Corunna, marched with the army in the previous memorable retreat, carrying along with her an infant seven months old; afterwards went out with the army to Portugal, and through all the campaigns in that country, in Spain, and in France."
The seven-month old child would have been little William Campbell, and I can't help but wonder what happened to his father - was he a casualty of those terrible months at the end of 1808 and into 1809? Or did he make it, with his wife and child, onto the ships that eventually came and made possible their escape back to England?
And what of Donald Campbell? He certainly seems to have been Barbara's husband by 1810, and must have at least have been in the picture within the nine months before Catherine's birth in France in 1815. But did he die in France or did he return to England in time for Christmas of that year? Curiously, at the marriage of William Keir and Barbara Steven in 1816, one of the witnesses is recorded as being 'Donald Campbell' - not a unique name by any means, but it certainly adds to the mystery of it all.
While I continued to research the easier pickings of the Keir children and their families, as well as some intriguing Cameron connections that came to light after looking into some of Agnes Wilson's friends and siblings, I poked an occasional idle theory or two concerning Barbara Stevens. I'd already discovered so much more than I ever imagined I would, but she had to have come from somewhere ...
One theory I tested was that her mother may have been called Charlotte. She named her second (known) daughter Charlotte Keir, not a hugely common name in 1820 (just over 80 Charlottes were registered in Scotland in 1820, compared to over 200 Barbaras, 385 Catherines, 2,300 Marys and 2,700 Margarets), and the name didn't seem to come form the Keir side of the family. I did find a Barbara Steven, born around the right time, in 1782, to a William Steven and Charlotte Hill, but it was in Edinburgh, and I had no reason to connect her with my own Barbara Stevens.
I was starting to think that she may have her origins in Caithness, and particularly in Thurso - after all, that's where she married her first husband, William Campbell. I turned to my DNA matches to see if any strong connections came up with Stevens and Caithness. A few came up, but with nothing very convincing - except for one who had a John Steven who died in Thurso in 1890. Their tree was not complete so I did a quick series of searches and discovered the possibility that this line lead back to an Alexander Steven who may have been the Thurso-born son of a William Steven and Charlotte Hill - the same names I'd discovered recently in Edinburgh.
I looked at this couple more closely and discovered that William had been a journeyman blacksmith and had married Charlotte Hill in Edinburgh in 1781, having Barbara the following year. But what I'd missed before was that they then moved to Thurso where they had three more children - Jean, Magnus and Alexander. As it turned out, this was not the Alexander of my DNA match - her Alexander was of a completely different line (the son of David Steven and Elizabeth Mowatt of Olrig). My hurried family tree was a mistake but had inadvertently lead me to the right family.
How did I know that I had finally found Barbara Stevens' parents? It was all in the witnesses, only revealed by looking at images of the original baptism documents (they're not included on the searchable indexes). While none were recorded for Barbara in Edinburgh, the Thurso records were slightly more detailed. Barbara's siblings had a couple of witnesses who appeared on more than one occasion, including James Keith and Magnus Steven. They helped to identify that William Steven had a second marriage in Thurso in 1790 to one Janet Sutherland (presumably Charlotte had died). This marriage had Magnus Steven as a witness and a new name, Richard Sutherland - likely a relative of the bride.
Richard Sutherland continued appearing as a witness for a number of the new couple's children, all the way to 1803. In one record, in 1795, it was mentioned he was a 'Chelsea Pensioner', in other words an old soldier. More importantly he appeared on a document I'd already been holding for a number of months - the marriage of Barbara Stevens and William Campbell of the 42nd Regiment in Thurso, in 1803, where one of the witnesses was Richard Sutherland. I double-checked to make sure he wasn't some kind of church official, thus appearing across many records - he wasn't, and seemed to be connected closely to the Thurso Steven family. Also, while Sutherland is one of the most common Caithness surnames, Richard Sutherland was very rare, appearing only about 15 times across the whole of Scotland in the old parish records (compare that to over 500 John Sutherlands in Caithness alone).
Looking at the witnesses also helps, I believe, take the Thurso Stevens back one further generation. Barbara's father, William, appears in a number of online trees, though often only recording his second marriage to Janet Sutherland, and then they differ on his parentage - with some opting for a family form Dunnet, and others from Olrig or Wick. But I think he was Thurso born and bred, specifically to Magnus Steven and Jane Manson, with William born in 1756.
While I can't find a marriage for Magnus and Jane (sometimes recorded as Anne), one witness to the baptism of their son Magnus, in 1765, was James Keith, the same name that appears on a couple of the early baptisms for William and Charlotte. Another is Francis Manson - a name that appears on four of the Steven/Sutherland baptisms (1793-1797) and one of the Steven/Manson baptisms (1761) - the dates suggesting the latter witness is the father of the former, the son of Francis Manson and Katherine Bain, born in Thurso in 1771.
The birthdate of 1756 for William might also tie in with the possible age of Charlotte Hill. While no baptism for her could be found, her marriage entry does record her father to be one George Hill of 'Mutton Hole', Edinburgh, and I did find a George Hill having several children in that precise locale, with his wife Janet Aitken, between 1750 and 1758 (update: I now also have a DNA link with another descendant of this Hill family).
At the end of all this I find I have a surprisingly full biography of the life of Barbara Steven/s/on, but also many questions. What happened to her first two husbands, the Campbells, William and Donald? I can only presume they perished on campaign - did William die at Corunna or during the retreat there? When did Barbara marry Donald, and did he die in Flanders or France, or did he make it back to Scotland? What of their son, Alexander, born in 1810 - I've not been able to confirm his existence into adulthood. Did she have any other children? And looking further back into her roots, would we eventually find Scandinavian blood? Her grandfather seems to have been called Magnus, and she had a half-brother called Darg, both names with an Icelandic or Norse origin, places with a strong connection to Thurso - though that may be many generations further back, and will have to be a search for another day. There's plenty to still find out.
Hints and tips
Search again within record sets you've looked through before - there may have been new records added, or you may have new information or experience that makes your search more successful.
Sometimes more general searches could open a door, for instance search for just a surname in conjunction with a particular place and see who comes up.
Use wildcards (*) to search for variant spellings of a name. When searching for Stevens I used 'st*n*' to encompass all Steven, Stevens, Stevenson, Stiven and Stephens (etc.) - all were spellings used within the family I was searching for. Keir was also spelled as Kier, Keer, Kear and Kerr or Ker.
Look at the original documents (or facsimiles of them) as much as possible - often they will contain extra information that doesn't appear on the index (such as witnesses or exact locations) that can help differentiate between families with the same name, or they may reveal that, actually, the index transcription is wrong.
First and middle names can be clues to other parts of the family, but they could also just be a tribute to friends or neighbours. I knew to keep an eye out for the name Keir as it was used as a middle name, but I also knew another middle name - Leishman - was from a family friend, the local church minister.
Research the spouses of your family members as well as any previous wives or husbands if they were widowed, if they're fellow locals you might be surprised to see a familiar surname within their family.