This blog began in 1997 as a single news page called Nucelus. In 2005, during a long wait to move into a new house, I decided to learn some php and MySQL and write my own blogging system, which became inkyBlog and which now powers this, my own Webbledegook blog.
Thank you to my brother, Murray Ewing, for help with some of the more challenging aspects!
I will publish the piece online once the magazine has been out for a bit. Update: it can now be read online here.
The first showed up during some family history research. I was looking into my Staffordshire Hodgkins family and found myself in the baptism book for St. Michael and All Angels, Penkridge, where there was a baptism on 7 November 1779 for "William, son of Ann Hodgkins". But my eye was caught by the entry directly above, on the same day, for one "Cyrus Hamilton, an African Negroe". I was immediately intrigued - there were reportedly about 10-15,000 black people living in England in the latter half of the 18th century (largely in London), but what was this gentleman's story, and how did he end up in Penkridge?
Cyrus was already around 15 or 16 years old when he was baptised (if his age recorded at death is correct), and was said to have been brought to England by a 'Lady Hamilton'. Within two or three years he went into service as butler to Sir Edward Littleton of Teddesley Park, MP and 'country gentleman' (1727-1812).
In 1809 Cyrus married Susanna Barnes in Birmingham and they had two children in Penkridge, Louisa in 1813, and Edward Moreton in 1815 (the name Moreton came from Sir Edward's brother-in-law, Moreton Walhouse, whose grandson inherited the Littleton estate in 1812). Cyrus died in February 1825 and was buried at Penkridge, in the same church in which he'd been baptised. With his death, a small annuity from Teddesley Hall ended, putting some financial strain on his surviving family.
His wife, Susanna, went on to a new relationship with an engine fitter, Joseph Yates, with whom she had a son, Thomas, who sadly only lived a few months. She died in 1865, aged 78. Son Edward Moreton Hamilton married Esther Jane Brown in 1841 - they may have gone to the US in 1851 and maybe also had family there - I have not yet been able to follow them up.
Daughter Louisa seems to have provided three grandchildren for Cyrus - all from an unknown father who she claimed to have married in France - John (b.1844), Emily (b.1846), and Thomas (b. 1849). Thomas would marry and have at least seven children, continuing Cyrus's family into the 20th century.
The Staffordshire Record Office contains some interesting papers in the form of letters from Louisa to the 2nd Lord Hatherton at Teddesley, suggesting her late father had actually been adopted by Lord Littleton, and that she had leant a large sum of money to Lord Hatherton's father. The letters were an attempt at financial relief and, despite her stories not being believed, she was awarded a small allowance to help with her rent and debts.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this story is the identity of 'Lady Hamilton', the discovery of which might provide an origin for Cyrus himself.
The title of 'Lady Hamilton' immediately conjures up the famous mistress of Horatio Nelson, Emma or Amy Lyon - but she was not Lady Hamilton until 1791. Interestingly, she was also mistress to Charles Francis Greville (her future husband's nephew), whose father had sold his Penkridge lands to Sir Edward Littleton in the 1740s.
Nelson was acquanited with another Lady Hamilton, the wife of one William Leslie Hamilton Esq., Lady Isabella Erskine (daughter of the 10th Earl of Buchan), also known as Lady Belle. She is of particular note as Louisa Hamilton claimed her father was "the natural son of Lady Bel Hamilton". A Lady by way of her father being an Earl, she became a Hamilton in 1770 when she married William in Speldhurst, near Tunbridge Wells.
Immediately after their marriage, the Hamiltons travelled to the West Indies, specifically St. Kitts, where William was Speaker of the House and later Attorney-General of the Leeward Islands. They stayed for a while on the Olivees estate, complete with its enslaved population, and "belonging to Hamilton's sister". This would be Catherine Hamilton, married to Peter Matthew Mills who had inherited the estate from his father (killed on the island in a duel in 1752).
Lady Belle returned to England in July 1779, four months before Cyrus's baptism, due to increasing insecurity from the American Revolutionary War (the French would take St. Kitts in 1782). Her husband followed in the next year but died within days of his return, and their wealth was devastated when the ship carrying many of their belongings was captured by the French. After a second marriage, in 1785 to the Reverend John Cunninghame (15th Earl Glencairn in 1791), she died in Boulogne in 1824.
Lady Belle has another interesting, if obscure, link with her more famous namesake, Lady (Emma) Hamilton, in that both Lady Hamiltons were muses of the artist George Romney (1734-1802). Emma appears in a number of beautiful and sensual portraits by Romney, apparently sitting for him over 100 times. Lady Belle was Romney's subject on several occasions recorded between 1777 and 1791, "as Lady Isabel Hamilton she sat many times ... as Lady Bell Cunningham twice, and twice as Lady Glencairn".
Depending how accurate Louisa was with her 'Lady Bel' comment, more research may uncover a more dependable link with Isabella (or her husband, a more likely candidate with stronger associations with the Caribbean) and some other aspects of Cyrus's history (the Littletons, for instance). Perhaps there is another 'Lady Bel' out there besides the one I've found and speculated on here. There are certainly more Lady Hamiltons to find - there is Lady Marianne Hamilton (1737-1802), or Lady Cassandre Agnes Hamilton (1741-1821) or maybe even Lady Louisa Hamilton (d.1777) dying just before Cyrus's baptism and with the same name as his eldest daughter. Isabella Erskine looks very intriguing, but the case remains open.
I came across William while doing research for my Second Anglo-Afghan War studies. I was examining a photo of Sergeants of the 72nd Highlanders at Sialkot, India, in 1878, and one man in particular stood out - quite obviously, and unusually, a man of African descent.
A bit more digging showed Sergeant 218 William Dobson did not serve in the Afghan war, and was actually discharged from the army as medically unfit (due to years in the harsh climate of the Indies) not long after that photo was taken, in June 1878. He'd given many years of service, enlisting at Edinburgh in 1858 before being sent to his regiment for the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion. He rose up through the ranks, gaining Corporal in 1863 and Sergeant in 1865, serving in India, Ireland and the UK. His conduct was reported as "very good" and he received the Long Service Good Conduct medal with gratuity in 1876.
William was actually born in Edinburgh, in 1831, to an African father (also William Dobson, a gentleman's servant or butler) and a (presumably) Scots mother, Mary Flockhart. He was one of six siblings of which three certainly died young, and no trace can yet be found of the other two.
In 1851 William's father was a widow (with no children present), and manservant to John Kennedy, a retired Writer to the Signet. The census records he was born in Africa, a British Subject, and was working alongside one Margaret Gordon, the household cook. She was almost half his age (born, in fact, just a few weeks after his first marriage), but they would wed two months later and go on to have five children, half-siblings to Sergeant William Dobson, though only two survived into adulthood. The 1861 census gives more detail on William senior's origins, with his birthplace recorded as Sierra Leone, Africa, a Naturalised British Subject.
William's birthdate of around 1807, and birthplace as Sierra Leone is interesting, as in that year the British government abolished the slave trade and the following year made Sierra Leone a Crown Colony, with Freetown as its capital.
William senior would die in 1863 (just a couple of weeks after his six-year-old son, Harris), aged 56, while his second wife would live until the age of 68, dying in 1897. One of their surviving children, Henry Edward Dobson, would live until 1930 (he did not marry).
William junior's good army conduct was not necessarily a reflection of his earlier life, for in 1852 he was sentenced to seven years transportation for house-breaking and spent three years at Portland Prison in Dorset. But in 1855 he was involved in an incident in which he helped one of the warders who had been attacked by another prisoner wielding a pick-axe during quarry labour, and was granted early release. It seems likely these events may have had some influence on William enlisting with the army some two-and-a-half years later.
While still in the army, in July 1866, William married Ann Prescott in Edinburgh (the 72nd had arrived there from India in February), the daughter of a gun polisher from England, though they'd both lived on Jamaica Street in the 1850s so perhaps knew each other already. By this time Ann was mother to an 'illegitimate' child, Jane Prescott, but she and William would have seven other known children, in India, Ireland and Scotland, four of whom would reach adulthood and have families of their own.
Unfortunately the end of William's tale is a sad one. On 9th February 1887, William's wife of 21 years died from disease of the kidney, heart and liver - as a soldier's wife, bearing children in the Subcontinent, she'd had a very hard life indeed - she was only 40 years old. Two weeks later, William (who'd been working as a maltman) took his own life in a rather violent manner, cutting his throat with a razor; he was 60 years old. His eldest surviving child, Thomas, was 17, and his youngest, Sophia, was just 7. Sophia would live a long life, dying in 1958 at the age of 79, and leaving behind family of her own.
It seems important that these otherwise little-known Black Britons should have their fascinating stories researched and told, and I have added both families to WikiTree, which cites many of the sources used (Cyrus Hamilton | William Dobson).
James and Helen married at Scone in Perthshire on 7 July, 1793. A couple of years ago I made more of an effort to look into Helen, starting - in the absence of anything else - with the fact that a grandchild of hers was named Thomas Clark Ewing (another was Helen Clark Ewing), quite likely named after a relative of Helen's - her father, perhaps, or a brother?
With Helen being 'of Scone' it seemed sensible to investigate any Thomas Clarks in the same locale, and indeed one (and only one) does pop up, namely Thomas Clark who married Margaret Wilson, at Scone, in 1800. He appears on the 1841 census as a merchant in New Scone, aged 65, giving a birthdate of around 1775. Helen was in Dysart, in Fife, at this time, with her age given as 75. Remembering that ages in the 1841 census could be rounded to the nearest 5 years, this would give Helen a date of around 1765.
A search for Helen Clarks (Clarke/Clerk/e) born in Perthshire between the years 1760-1775 gives five candidates. Of these only one family also had a Thomas, these being the children of Adam Clark and Elspet Robertson. Also of interest is the fact that their birthdates fit the 1841 census the closest - with Helen baptised in 1766, and Thomas in 1773.
While I did look into the other families, it is that of Adam and Elspet that keep coming up with stand-out data points. There are five baptisms on record to this couple, the first two at Scone (Innerbuist), and then three in St Martins (Durhamfield). Helen and Robert appear in the record next to each other under "some deseenters children", baptised in 1766 and 1768 respectively. Thomas Clark's 1846 Will gives instruction to leave £10 to the Session of the United Associate Congregation of Scone, the same seceder's denomination under which James Ewan and Helen Clark had a number of their children baptised, in Perth.
James Ewan and Adam Clark appear on the same page of the 1797 Horse Tax Roll of Scone - James at Parkfield of Limepotts, and Adam at Pikestone Hill (now Pictstonhill), neighbouring farms less than a mile and a fifteen-minute walk from each other.
While there are several factors that point to Helen being the daughter of Adam and Elspet Clark, there is another that throws a spanner in the works. There is another Scone marriage involving a Helen Clark - the 1789 marriage of Helen Clark, of Scone, and Henry Low, of Kinnoull. This Helen could also be a candidate as the daughter of Adam, so how to differentiate?
There are several difficult things about this Clark/Low union. I could find no children for the couple, and no deaths. Henry Low of Kinnoull is a fairly unique identifier, and just such a person can be found, in 1791, marrying a Helen (or Nelly) Hutton in Perth (married by a Burgher dissenting minister, rather than the Anti-Burgher tradition of the Ewans). This marriage had more evidence of a life - children, newspaper mentions, and deaths for Henry and his wife in 1828 and 1837.
So what happened to Helen Clark from the 1789 marriage? A closer look at the record may provide the answer. On page 189 of the Scone Old Parish Register, the Low/Clarke union is listed among fourteen other marriages - every one of those entries mentions that the parties were either "contracted, duly proclaimed and married" or "contracted, proclaimed and married". The exception is Henry Low and Helen Clarke, which states, "November 9 Henry Low in Kinnoul Parish & Helen Clarke in this Parish were contracted and duly proclaimed". This may be a clue that, while the banns was proclaimed, the marriage did not go ahead. So perhaps the same Henry Low would go on to marry Nelly Hutton just over a year later, and the same Helen Clark would go on to marry James Ewan in the same church, almost four years later.
There are other aspects of which to be careful. Just because there is no record, it doesn't mean there is no person - so while there only seems to be one Scone Helen Clark, there could be another whose baptism does not exist in the records. Also there is a Monumental Inscription recorded for Adam Clark, who died at Scone in 1799, which suggests he had five children who "died in childhood" (though it's not clear from the transcription, this could actually refer to the children of his son, James). One of these children could have been Helen, unrecorded.
While it would be great if Helen had named one of her children with the less common name of Adam, or Adam himself had left a Will with a mention of a married daughter named Helen Ewan (some of his children did leave Wills), on balance, with the other evidence of the names, birthdates, geographical proximity, and religious connection, it seems a very strong likelihood that Helen Clark, who married James Ewan in 1793, was the daughter of Adam Clark and Elspet Robertson. Furthermore, Adam, born in Errol in 1733, was the son of Robert Clark and Elspeth Jackson, taking Helen's probable line back one generation further.
As usual, I invite discussion and further evidence for or against this theory from fellow researchers - please feel free to get in touch.
I'd originally done a basic Y-DNA test with FamilyTreeDNA back in 2018, analysing just 37 markers. It disclosed my haplogroup as R-M269, which wasn't very revealing - it's the most common group in Europe and is estimated to be between 4000-10000 years old.
I actually had more details than this from a couple of other previous DNA tests that included Y-results along with their atDNA analysis. LivingDNA put me into R-L21 with a subclade of R-S3058, and 23andMe gave me R-S190, which was the deepest result. Putting my Ancestry DNA results through the MorleyDNA Predictor also concluded R-S190. The line of descent goes like this ...
R-M269 > R-L23 > R-L51 > R-P311 > R-P312 > R-L21 > R-CTS241 > R-DF21 > R-FGC3213 > R-S3058 > R-S424 > R-S426 > R-S190
S424 and (particularly) S190 are markers that define a unique family line known as the Little Scottish Cluster (LSC). Anyone who tests positive for these haplogroups shared a common ancestor from somewhere between 1000-1500 years ago in southern Scotland, perhaps around the Perth and Stirling areas. As this was a time before the adoption of surnames, there are a variety of surnames within the LSC (see this paper (PDF) by Steven R. Colson, 2007).
If you really want to get deep into your haplogroup subclades, you can take a 'Big-Y' test, but as this was beyond my finances, I thought I'd never do it, and I was happy enough knowing what I already had. But then my 50th birthday coincided with a generous sale at FTDNA, and I went for it - the Big-Y700 test.
The results of this got me much deeper into the branches, with my new haplogroup terminating at FT16096 ...
S424 > S426 > R-S190 (LSC) > FGC3215 > ZZ23 > Y12464 > Z17998 > FGC3101 > Y16002 > Z17999 > FT16096
Out of just over 400 men who have tested and signed up to the LSC project (not all with Big-Y tests) this put me in a sub-group of about a dozen individuals, though they tested positive for various sub-branches which I didn't, it put my Ewing line out in its own little twig.
So that's where I've been for the past three years until a recent new batch of Big-Y tests were analysed and I was joined on my little FT16096 twig by another individual. Now there's someone to compare me with, the subclade can be better defined. A variant that was once unique to my Ewing line is now shared and can therefore be identified, resulting in a new haplogroup terminus, namely FT173826 - a clade defined by having a derivative A at position 6869996 on the Y-chromosome, instead of the ancestral G.
The common ancestor of this new haplogroup most likely dates to around the year 1350, it could be older, but could also be as recent as 1600 or so. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that this other tester also has the surname of Ewing, suggesting my surname could have been fairly consistent for quite a number of generations.
As a side-note, thanks to the results of the Ewing family DNA project, I know I am not at all closely related to the majority of Ewings there, who are largely descended from Scots-Irish Ewings who left the Emerald Isle for the US a few hundred years ago. This is not surprising - the best and most accessible Y-DNA testing company at present is FamilyTreeDNA, who are American, and as most of their customers are American, it is American Ewings who make up the bulk of the Ewing project.
These Ewings belong downstream of the R-M222 haplogroup, which means our 'common ancestor' clade is R-DF13, dating to around 4,400 years ago. At least I can now definitively say I am no relation to JR and Bobby Ewing from Dallas, the bane of my life in the early 80s! But perhaps it also means I would not strictly be a member of Clan Ewing, said to descend from Ewen of Otter. No Ewing tartan for me! (I jest, though actually I wore McLachlan tartan at my wedding twenty years ago, with a Cameron pin).
So, partly for that reason, at the moment the Little Scottish Cluster holds more immediate interest for me. You can look at a heat-map of the surname Ewing in the UK, and compare it with the general route of migration for my own haplogroup line. My earliest known ancestor, as of this writing, is James Ewan (aka Ewing), born probably around 1765 and living near Perth, shown with the little star on the map below (see my Ewing family history here). It all seems to add up rather neatly (though I'm sure the reality is not quite so tidy as it looks!).
One aspect of Y-DNA I find endlessly fascinating (honestly!) is the short tandem repeats, or STRs, that count the number of repeating alleles at specific locations in the Y chromosome to help pinpoint identification. For instance, a must-have characteristic of the Little Scottish Cluster is having an STR value of 9 at position DYS 590 (TTTTG repeated 9 times). Only 1% of R1b men have 9 here, where it is usually 8 (most members of the Ewing project have 8). And I seem to be unique, at the moment, within the LSC in having a value of 12 at DYS 393, where the majority has 13 (91% of R1b men have 13).
Not a lot can be concluded at the moment, and answers would only really start to come if more Scots Ewings and Ewans did Y-DNA tests. This would doubtless enlarge the tree and help to map Ewings in the LSC, and would also likely reveal other groups, possibly relating to McEwans, MacLachlans, and other Eoghan-related surnames. I'll look forward to the next update ...
The starting point is Donald's 1887 death certificate, which records his parents as being John Cameron, farmer, and Ann McDonald. Case closed! Well, not quite ... there is no baptism record for a Donald Cameron born to such parents, and no such parents coinciding with the time and place for our Donald or any possible further family. The information was provided on the death certificate by Donald's son-in-law, Charles McGregor, and we might presume it could have been confirmed before-hand by Donald's widow, Catherine, who would survive him by another 19 months.
A number of Cameron family genealogists have attributed various parents to Donald, and I'd like to go through these to see if they stand up to falsification. But first, a couple of basic facts: Donald Cameron appears on census returns for 1841-1881 with a consistent place of birth, Little Dunkeld, and the year focusing on 1810, give or take a year or so - if accurate.
There are a handfull of Donald Camerons born and baptised in Little Dunkeld who have been associated with our Clunie Donald. The earliest is Donald born to Donald Cameron and Janet Black of Tomgarrow in June 1807. But this Donald can be identified in the census returns, living for a while with his widowed mother, then as a single man into old age, dying at Tomgarrow in 1897 - so he's not our Donald.
The next one is interesting thanks to the mother's surname, Donald Cameron born at Little Trochrie in 1808 to Alexander Cameron and Clementina McDonald. But although these parents appear on many trees for Clunie Donald, they can be discounted too - their son married Catherine Duff in Little Dunkeld in 1840, and he died there in 1881.
We're taken quite a way out of our expected birth time-zone for the next possibility, namely Donald Cameron born at Tomgarrow to Donald Cameron and Lilias Duff in 1816. This Donald, too, can be crossed off the list as records show he married an Ann McDonald in 1851 and died in Pitlochry in 1899.
This one shouldn't really be a candidate, but I have seen him on a tree or two - Donald Cameron born in 1825 to John Cameron and Catherine McNaughton, again at Tomgarrow. If this were correct then our Donald would have married at the age of 12. Anyway, this Donald can be accounted for in a rather macabre way - in 1858 he went insane and murdered his two-year old son, then died in Perth prison from cholera in 1866.
It's interesting that so many of these Little Dunkeld Camerons are of Tomgarrow. This tiny village does not exist any more, but was thought at one time to be the home of tens of Cameron families, with the tale that in times long past the village was famous for its sword-makers. Certainly Tomgarrow should be considered a possible place of origin for our Donald, especially with the Little Dunkeld parish register being "not very regularly kept" according to records.
Another place of interest would be Caputh, where Donald and Catherine were resident and married in 1837. There is one Donald Cameron here that is sometimes picked up - the son of John Cameron and Catherine McDonald, but he was born in 1795 and for that reason remains an outsider in our list of candidates. It should be noted that the Caputh John and Catherine are not the same as the Inverness couple with the same names, the first married in 1792 and the latter in 1807, though they are sometimes amalgamated as their marriages are hard to find (search for Ketrin and Ketherin rather than Catherine).
A couple with the same names had a 'lawful son', Allan Cameron, in Clunie in 1811, and a Peter Cameron was also born there in 1829 to similarly-named parents - but these are different couples as Peter was a 'natural child' (illegitimate).
Some researchers have discovered a Donald Cameron born to a John Cameron and Ann McDonald and attributed them as our Clunie Donald's parents. The birth date is not quite right - with a likely baptism record of 1817 and census returns indicating the early 1820s. Also his place of birth is Sleat, Inverness, a long way off. But this Donald did actually die in Perthshire, and, remarkably, does have a connection to our Donald - though he is not our Donald.
John Cameron and Ann McDonald appear to have married in Inverness in 1807, and I can find only two children that may be theirs - Donald (1817) and Lachlan (1821). Donald went on to marry Helen Stewart in Blairgowrie and they had seven known children, including a Daniel Cameron in 1859. This Daniel married Sarah Cameron in Largo in 1891 - and this Sarah is a granddaughter of our Clunie Donald, through Margaret (born Caputh in 1841). Daniel and Sarah went on to have seven children of their own before emigrating to Canada around 1930.
That covers the majority of candidate parents most often cited from the old parish records, though I've decided not to include my notes on various other theories (illegitimacy, Ann McDonald remarrying, etc.). But let's look at some other families of interest I've found through other routes ...
In 1911 Agnes Craig Wallace, one of Donald Cameron's grandadughters, who ran a confectionary shop in Birnam, Little Dunkeld, had as a boarder the daughter of a Dundee medical practitioner, one Alice Jane Gray. Alice was a music teacher, and while she may have just been lodging with the Wallaces, it seems she stamped some kind of impression as Agnes gave birth to a daughter six months later who she named Margaret Jean Gray.
What was Alice Jane Gray to Agnes, was she a relative? If we look into her family history we find she was descended from two Cameron families of Blair Atholl, Perthshire - that of Finlay Cameron and Christina McDonald (on her maternal grandfather's side), and of Alexander Cameron and Margaret McDonald (on her maternal grandmother's side).
Finlay and Christina had a son, Donald in 1799, and he can be accounted for as dying in Edinburgh in 1870. Of more interest is Alexander and Margaret. Our Clunie Donald named his first son Alexander (it's perhaps notable, or not, that he didn't name any of his known children John), and his second daughter was Margaret (the first was Ann, so that may have significance).
Alex and Margaret Cameron had a son, Donald, in Blair Atholl in 1807 - close enough to the date we're looking for and I have not yet been able to find any trace of him after his baptism. The splinter in the theory is his birthplace, as Clunie Donald is very insistent he was born in Little Dunkeld, not Blair Atholl (20 miles north). If these Donalds were the same person, then that would make Agnes Wallace (b.1869) and Alice Gray (b.1868) second cousins - they also lived in the same quarter of Dundee through the 1880s and 90s.
It's a tenuous theory with not a lot to back it up - but then Agnes Wallace was partially responsible for me breaking down the Catherine Campbell brick wall a couple of years ago, after researching her husband's first wife, Sarah Sim. Many family connections seem to gravitate around Agnes.
Agnes Wallace can also lead us to another theory, this time discovered through her younger brother, James Wilson. When he married, at age 30 in Birnam in 1906 to Jessie Campbell, one of the witnesses was James Crockett. James was the son of Frank Crockett and his wife Janet, and a family story involving visits to her claims that she may have been "a relative". This becomes more interesting when we find that Janet was indeed a Cameron, the daughter of Alexander Cameron and Helen Anderson, and born in Caputh in 1864.
The Crocketts lived in the Little Dunkeld village of Inver (Frank would abandon the family and disappear around 1892), and that's where Alexander Cameron died in 1904. His death certificate reveals his parents to have been John Cameron, soldier, and Ann Auld - names tantalisingly close to our Clunie Donald's John Cameron and Ann McDonald.
Unfortunately nothing can be found of this couple. The military connection is interesting because Donald married Catherine Campbell, the daughter of a sergeant in the 42nd Foot - I note there is a John Cameron of Dunkeld also in the 42nd Foot from that era - but there were, as we know, a lot of Camerons from the area at that time.
Alexander was born in Caputh in 1826, some years after the supposed birthdate of Donald, and 11 years before he was married in the same place (Alexander would marry there in 1852). Another link of curiosity is that while Agnes Wallace and her husband ran the sweet shop in Birnam, Janet Crockett's sister-in-law, Helen Cameron, ran one in Dunkeld, less than a mile away across the Dunkeld Bridge.
All these historical whispers leave fairly loose ends and nothing at all concrete, but do seem to have at least some significance worth keeping in mind. The last strand I'd like to look at is DNA, and with such a lack of records I feel this perhaps offers the most hope for an answer to the problem of Donald Cameron's parents.
Currently I have 13 Cameron DNA matches who I can definitley place in the known Donald Cameron/Catherine Campbell family, but there are a handful of less certain matches that contain Cameron families, with a couple worth looking into.
One of these has a John and Alexander Cameron born at Little Dunkeld in 1810 and 1813, right in our zone of interest. Their parents were John Cameron, carpenter, and Catherine Kennedy, resident at Tomgarrow. Confusingly, this turns out not to be the Cameron hotspot of Tomgarrow at Little Dunkeld, but a place some 20 miles to the west in Kenmore, where their first son, William was born in 1806. The Little Dunkeld births were at Ballinrich, a farm on the banks of the River Braan. Not much else stands out from this family in relation to our mystery. The family mainly stayed in Kenmore, with son John becoming a teacher and moving to Argyllshire.
The most fascinating DNA link contains no Cameron name at all. I have about 15 matches, a handful quite meaningful (28cM), with Isle of Sky ancestry - notably Lamont - that emigrated and settled in Prince Edward Island, Canada c.1803. The Cameron connection exists because these matches are shared by at least four of my definite Cameron cousins, with our common ancestors being Donald and Catherine Cameron.
I've spent many months looking into this connection with no obvious linking point as yet. It centres on shared DNA in chromosome 13 (with over 70 matches so far) and brings in a number of other Scots families as well as the Lamonts, including McDonalds, McLeods, McGregors, McLeans and McLellans, among others ... it would be another article in itself to try and present it all.
While these matches could theoretically link to Catherine Campbell's forebears, I managed to break down her brick wall a couple of years ago (see Finding Mrs Keir) and her family points largely to Caithness, which leans towards the likelihood of the match linking to our unknown Donald Cameron parents, perhaps the "McDonald" mother. Maybe Donald was illegitimate, or his mother came from outside of Perthshire, and keeping an eye on this DNA puzzle could well be the key to any future breakthrough, and I'd be especially interested to hear from any fellow Cameron descendants who have DNA links to Prince Edward Island in the early 1800s.
I present this little article as a waypoint in my research (all errors my own, please feel free to correct anything), and to share the load with my fellow Camerons in the hope that an answer is somewhere out there. We'll keep digging!
There was no sign of a husband with her in the 1841 census of Anstruther Wester, where she lived with her two children, and the 1851 census revealed she was a widow. Through the records of the Fife Family History Society I soon found out her husband, John Birrell, had died by drowning in July 1840 - just two years after they were married - the only details being that he was a ship's carpenter, and the locations of the accident ('River Mersay') and his burial ('Stormount').
The only River Mersey I knew was at Liverpool, and the only Stormont I knew was in Belfast - places separated by 140 miles of Irish Sea, but perhaps making sense for a ship en-route from England to Northern Ireland.
Regularly over the next 20 years I would check resources and newspapers to try and uncover any mention of the drowning of John Birrell, with no luck. The closest I came was a boat swamped on the Mersey and in which two of the four mechanics on board were drowned - no names were mentioned, but the date was off of Birrell's recorded death by just two days.
I probably hadn't done a 'Birrell check' for about three years when I decided to try again a couple of days ago, and this time I hit the mark. In that three years, the British Newspaper Archive had added the Shipping & Mercantile Gazette to their library, and in this publication was the following story, syndicated from the Montrose Review:
"MONTROSE - July 24: ... two men belonging to a Montrose vessel, the Mars, Captain Younger, last week met a watery grave. The vessel was then lying at Fleetwood, in Lancashire; and the men, whose names were John Burrell and John Menzies, having gone ashore on Tuesday night, were returning in a small boat, early next morning, when they were drowned. The boat was picked up next day, five miles from the vessel; and the bodies of the unfortunate mariners were also found. Burrell was a native of Anstruther; Menzies, of Montrose, and has left a widow and small family."
The date of death and his place of origin, Anstruther, are correct, though a couple of other details seem odd. Fleetwood is about 30 miles north of the Mersey, so either the place of drowning is not right, or they went for quite a trip. The burial at Stormont makes sense as the next destination of the Mars was Quebec, though the only report I can find so far seems to indicate it sailed from Fleetwood on the 23 July, whereas John's burial is recorded as the 17th. Hopefully, with these new details, I'll be able to get a clearer picture sometime soon.
John was just 22 when he died, but managed to have two children with Peggy (who lived to 79), both of whom would go on to have families of their own. Son Andrew married in 1858 and had two sons, one a school master, the other a soldier and then shale miner, both producing families of their own. The other child, my ggg-grandmother, married in 1859 and had 12 children, a number of them successful in Dundee-based businesses, and most surviving to have families of their own as well.
Part of the problem is my own Edwin Cole webpage - with, for instance, ebay sellers misidentifying the signature on the art and then Googling my page to copy info on the artist they think they're selling. In all the examples I currently have, Edwin Cole always signed his full name - Edwin Cole - and often also included a year date. Here are some examples from between 1905 and 1925.
He also seemed to work exclusively in watercolours for his paintings, and the scenes are nearly all landscape subjects in and around Shrewsbury - but I wouldn't exclude other mediums and subjects coming to light - he was versatile, working with stained glass, metal and wood.
Also coming up for sale, often under the name 'Edwin Cole', are two series of postcards titled the Kitten Series (including 'Miss Vanity', 'The Model' and 'The Destroying Angel') and the Artistique Series (featuring female portraits with titles such as 'Sandie', 'Billie' and 'Tommie'), all published by the Pictograph Publishing Co. of London in the 1920s.
These are not by Edwin Cole but by a Hackney-born artist called Edward Francis Cole. His signature is often 'Edwd Cole' (with a very small second 'd') so can be misidentified without care. Here are some examples - you'll note the long line coming from the end of Cole that was consistent throughout his career.
Edward was a poster designer before he joined the Surrey Regiment for the Great War, where he made a number of benevolent cartoons of his officers. He created art for the Pictographic postcards and went on to become a highly skilled commercial artist, later moving to and working in South Africa.
The vast majority of misidentifications concern a large number of original oil pantings being sold, not only through ebay, but also in auction houses both online and off, with the signature of E. Cole. Some of these, presumably later ones, are signed E. Cole Snr. or E. Cole Jun. (the latter not, as one ebay seller put it, because it was "painted in June").
The paintings are well-crafted (Cole senior slightly more professional, I'd say), and out of over 50 examples I've seen, all but a handful feature a country lane and a white-gated cottage (not always the same architecture), sometimes with a river or pond, sometimes with a girl walking in the lane, sometimes with a little stone bridge too. They are certainly nineteenth-century, but so far I have not been able to identify who the two E. Coles are - except they are not Edwin Cole of Shrewsbury.
One auction site has their art expert state "E Cole is probably a grandson of George Cole and a son of George Vicat Cole, both famous painters who made similar work". While the elder George Cole did indeed have a son called Edwin Cole, he was a mariner from the 1850s and my last sighting of him is in Jamaica at the end of 1880s where his Dutch second wife died. I doubt he was the artist, though he can't be fully ruled out just yet. Vicat Cole had four daughters and one son, Rex, also an artist. His daughter Edith Ivy, was probably not the 'E. Cole Snr' - most likely a male artist. But, certainly, the subject matter is thematically in line with that of the Vicat-Coles, including another son, Alfred Benjamin, so the family is worth exploring more fully.
Finally, another name has been thrown in to the mix, that of Ethel Kathleen Cole (1892-1976), sometimes identified as the painter, mistakenly I think, of one or more of the above E. Cole pieces. I have not been able to find a definite sample of her work online. A webpage of Suffolk artists assigns two paintings to her, one with the usual E. Cole signature (almost certainly misattributed) and another that says 'Cole - Ethel Kathleen' on the reverse - likely not put there by the artist herself, and probably another E. Cole painting by the looks of it.
Part of her biography states that Ethel went to the Slade School of Fine Art, and there is a figure sketch attributed to her from 1912 on the University College London site, though it is signed K. Cole, and a contemporary newspaper article refers to her as Kathleen Cole. The UCL site, confusingly, says Ethel was American and that she died in 1934 after living in Derwentwater. This does not seem to be correct, as census returns say she was born in Beccles, Suffolk, moved with her family to East Grinstead, and worked as an art teacher later in life, dying in Lewis, a spinster, in 1976. An E. Kathleen Cole is recorded as exhibiting at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1931, 1932 and 1935. Again there appears to be the biographies of more than one candidate conflated.
The research I've done here is not complete, and I especially hope to eventually identify E. Cole senior and junior. I'll update this as any new information comes to light, but in the meantime I hope it helps to correctly identify what is by Edwin Cole of Shrewsbury, and what isn't.
"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 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.
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.