George Bousfield Thomas 1844-1850

On the 31st of July 1844 George Bousfield Thomas was Baptised at St Paul, Deptford, England. 6 year-old George Bosfield Thomas died on the 1st of July 1850 at the family home, Rose Cottage, Trinity in the Parish of St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. The cause of death is given as ‘Water in Head’ which I presume to describe Hydrocephalus or ‘Water on the Brain’.

The lack of any further children in the records suggests that his mother may have been unable to bear any more following the birth of George. I believe the loss of their son to have been pivotal in the relationship that his parents, Lieutenant FWL Thomas RN and his wife Frances, were to develop with the Western Isles of Scotland. In particular, I do not think that Mrs Thomas would have devoted her life to the development of textile industries on the Isle of Harris had she also had a family. Little George’s death marks, for me, the birth of Harris Tweed.

It also allows us to say that the Thomas’s were already living in Leith by 1850 whilst the earliest census record of them there is that of 1861. The 1851 census saw them lodging in Culross, Perthshire, but that was not because they were making their way to Edinburgh (as I once thought), but for some reason found themselves away from their usual home in Leith.

In 1861 that home was 8 Trinity Crescent, Leith and the 44 year-old Commander RN and Marine Surveyor and his wife were joined by five others. They were Ann Morrison, their 19 year-old Domestic Servant from Uig, Lewis, her 15 year-old colleague Marion Macleod from Harris and three Sailors from the Orkneys. An interesting and unusual household.

The household of 1871, by which time Frederick has retired, is less noteworthy but that of 1881 contains a surprise. The couple were joined by Fanny Macdonald, their Cook from Harris, and Housemaid Dolina Macleod from Uig, Lewis but the surprise is provided by Jessie Davidson, 15, their ‘Adopted Daughter‘ from Harris.

The only match for her is Janet Davidson, daughter of Alexander Davidson, Minister of the Manish Free Church in Harris. She apparently returned to Harris by 1891 when she was living at Duncan Macrae’s home in Hamlets Little Borve. He was the Farmer there and her relationship appears to be that of ‘?ailor‘ yet the 25 year-old Jessie is described as Unemployed.

However, that is not what interests me. It is the use of the phrase ‘Adopted Daughter‘ that I find intriguing. Jessie was taken under the Thomas’s wing by 1881 yet her father remained the Minister at Manish until at least 1891 and her widowed mother was still living in Manish in 1901. The answer is partially supplied in 1892 when, on the 6th of July, the Manish Free Church Minister’s daughter Jessie marries Donald Tulloch Mackay from Tiree, where he is a Free Church Minister! They return to Tiree where, by 1901, she has born Donald two sons.

Quite why the Thomas’s took Jessie to Edinburgh is unclear but that they thought of her as their Adopted Daughter is, I think, very moving and provides another insight into this remarkable couple, who lost their one child, George Bousfield Thomas, 160 years ago next month.

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