>A Small Boy in Aberdeen


The 1911 Census marks a significant point in my researches because it is the first to include my Dad. There is something slightly strange about seeing one’s father listed as a 4 year-old boy and especially so as all my grandparents were already dead by the time I myself was 4 and hence, although I have ‘met’ them in the censuses, they exist only as shadows in my mind.
I do not intend to dwell upon the details of the household at 56 St Swithin Street (save to say that my dad’s two aunts were both Teachers and that the Boarder at his grandmother’s house taught Science at Gordon’s College), but look instead at the occupations of the neighbours at numbers 52 to 54:
We have an employer in the form of the Manager of a ‘Coal & Lime Importers, Oil Refiners & Grain Merchants Limited Company’; another employer who was a House Painter; a third employer who was a ‘Motor Car Agent’ and whose daughter was a ‘Clerk & Typist’ in the Motor Trade; and finally a ‘Retired Gilder & Picture Framer’ whose daughter was a self-employed Piano Teacher and whose two sons were employed as a ‘Dentists Mechanic’ and a ‘House Painter’.
So this was the neighbourhood that my Stornowegian grandfather found himself inhabiting 90 years after his own grandfather had been born in a house on the shore at Direcleit, a house that the sea was known to enter at particularly high tides.
I say ‘inhabiting’ but in fact he wasn’t there on the night of the census and, as the index at ScotlandsPeople does NOT include a field for the place of birth, I am not going to trawl through all the 36 year-old John Kerrs (at £1.17 each) in the hope of chancing upon him!
What is more disappointing is that, had he been there, I am sure that he would have continued his practice from the previous Census and inserted ‘G&E’ in the otherwise blank column recording Gaelic speakers…

My Grandfather

Although he was the reason for all this, and was my closest island ancestor, I’ve not yet told the whole tale of my Grandfather, John Kerr.
John was born at 11 Bayhead Street, Stornoway on the 5th of March 1875. His mother was Annie Kerr, a Dressmaker, and his father, who was identified on the 13th of July by the Sheriff’s Court as a result of Annie taking legal action against him, was a Tailor, Norman Montgomery, whose family originated from Leurbost in Lochs.
In 1881 the 6 year-old Scholar is living in Stornoway with his grandfather, 58 year-old Malcolm Kerr, Seaman, his grandmother, 58 year-old Mary (Macdonald) ,who was one of those who had been driven out of Orinsay in Lochs some 38 years earlier, his mother, Annie Kerr, who by now was a General Servant, and his two uncles, the 24 year-old Seaman, Alexander John Kerr and the 22 year-old Cooper, Malcolm Kerr. Lodging with the family was a 24 year-old Baker from Lochs called William Maciver.
By 1891, his education over, the 16 year-old is a Clerk living at 37 Bayhead Street with his grandparents whilst Annie has married the Baker, Williiam Maciver, and started a new family. They, too, are listed at No 37 as are her brother Malcolm and his wife. his other uncle, Alexander John, is with his young family in Keith Street and I often wonder whether the young John ever had the chance to accompany him on his sea voyages around the Western coast?
That is the last we see of John on the isles for come 1901 he has moved to the mainland and is now a 26 year-old Manager (Herring Fishing) boarding at 12 Millburn Street, Aberdeen. Three years later, on the 19th of October 1904 the 29 year-old Fish Salesman marries 24 year-old Telegraphist Alexandria Milne, the daughter of a Hatter, William Milne, at 56 St Swithin Street, Aberdeen.
On the 14th of August the following year the first of three children arrived with the birth at 3:45 pm of Elizabeth Isobel Kerr. Aunty Lizzie was born at her grandparents home in St Swithin Street whilst her father remained at his house at 14 Albury Place. Next came my father who was born at 46 Devonshire Road, Aberdeen at half-past three in the afternoon on the 5th of December 1906. This time John appears to have been in the family home at the time. Finally, shortly after midday on the 10th of July1908, Alexandra Jean Robson Kerr was born at 84 Ashley Road, Aberdeen. Aunty Jean’s birth was registered by my grandmother for John was away performing his role as a Superintendent of Fisheries for the Congested Districts Board in Ireland. These were a controversial attempt at combating poverty in areas such as Ireland and, in Scotland, several places including the Isle of Lewis. Superintendents were required to be skilled Coopers but I do not know at what stage in his life the 33 year-old from Stornoway acquired those skills.
What happened next is unclear but by 1922 John was living in Glasgow having left his family in Aberdeen and in that year a Divorce was granted. Six years later on the 7th of July 1928 the 53 year-old Cooper married a Newsagent, Jessie Cowie Perry who was ten years younger than him. This civil Marriage took place at 70 Hutcheson Street, Glasgow which, as far as I can tell, was and remains a public house. John’s address was 59 Edmund Street and Jessie’s 11 Ladywell Street which has now been redeveloped but back then was a small group of houses and shops.
John and Jessie had no children and in the morning of the 29th of December 1936 this 61 year-old journeyman Cooper from 15 Ladywell Street died at 122 Balornock Road, his heart having failed due to Myocarditis. The cause of death, an infection, and the place, on the road to Stobhill hospital, suggest that his illness had been diagnosed prior to John’s death.
My grandmother, who was to live for another 27 years after the death of he ex-husband, lived to see all her grandchildren born and did a through job in erasing all memories of my grandfather, whether written, photographic or oral, from the records. All I knew was that, according to my father, his name was John, he was born in Stornoway, became a Cooper and that his father was a Registrar! Clearly this last fact was either a coded, polite way of informing me that John was illegitimate or, equally likely, it was an invention of my grandmother’s making. Either way, it was his being born ‘out of wedlock’,  together with his mother’s apparent insistence that he kept her family name, that actually made my task in discovering John so much easier for Kerr was a very rare name indeed on Lewis, virtually all who were found there from 1851-1901 being members of my family and originating from my grandfather’s grandfather who was born in Direcleit and who thereby gave your author his blogging name!
One final thought. On the 3rd of October 1930 at 7:40 in the morning, John’s mother, Annie Maciver, died at 3 Westview Terrace, Stornoway. She was 76 years old and had been severely ill for the past ten days. I do hope that John had been able to visit his mother during her final days and, from what I have been told by my island cousins, he certainly did keep in contact with his family back in Lewis. This gives me some comfort for, although I never knew him or his immediate island family, from all that I have learned he and they were typical of much that is good about the people of the Western Isles…
John Kerr 1875-1936 RIP

Aberdeen Fish Managers of 1901

These eight men are those whose occupation included both the words ‘Fish’ and ‘Manager’:

Charles Catto, 52, Manager Fish Manure and Oil Works, Head, b. Pitsligo, Aberdeenshire
David L Crombie, 37, Manager Fish Manure Works, Head, 202 Victoria Road, b. Glasgow

John Watson, 29, Fishcurer Manager, Head, 97, Menzies Road, b. Dunbarton
Robert Manson, 25, Fishcurer (Manager), Head, 12 Menzies Road, b. Marnoch, Banffshire

John R Kendall, 27, Fish Merchants Manager, Head, 7 Bank Street, b. England

William Walker, 55, Manager Salmon Fishing, Head, 9 Fish Street, b. Porthleven, Kincardineshire
John Kerr, 26, Manager (Herring Fishing), Boarder, 12 Millburn Street, b. Stornoway, Ross-shire

James Murray, 40, Manager (Fisherman), Head, 40 Walker Road, b. St Monans, Fife

I was surprised to find so few men in managerial roles associated with the fishing. It is possible that other managers did not specify that they were involved in the fishing industry, but I consider that unlikely.

The first four records are self-explanatory and remind us of all the onshore processing involved. The remaining four are slightly less clear:

Was John R Kendall managing one particular merchant’s interests or did he have authority over all the merchants? If the former, it is odd that we do not see more men doing the same?

William Walker appears to be managing Salmon Fishing but does this mean that he his role was to oversea the salmon fishery too? The same goes for John Kerr, my grandfather, but for Herring. John is easily spotted for his is the only ‘G&E’ entry in an otherwise blank column requesting whether people spoke Gaelic.

James Murray’s role is equally perplexing and, without knowing exactly how the fishing industry was organised in Aberdeen at this time it is unclear what his management duties involved.

In John’s case, my aunt’s birth certificate of 1905 records him as a ‘Fish Salesman’ and (as it contains his florid signature crossing the boundary into the previous record!) I can assume that he gave that description in person. He repeated the description, and his ignoring of the narrow-ruled form, when he signed my father’s birth certificate a year later. When my second aunt was born in 1908, he was a ‘Superintendent of Fisheries (Congested Districts Board, Ireland)’ , for which role he had to be a Cooper, and it was my grandmother who signed the certificate in his absence

 She kept within the lines…

Singer Sewing Machine Company in Scotland

Singer opened their first factory outside the USA in Glasgow in 1867 and such were the numbers employed there that it had its own railway station. At its height, the 10,000 workers at Clydebank were making 4 in every 5 of the sewing machine in the World. Competition from the Far East increased during the second-half of the 20thC and in 1980 the factory closed.

In 1876 my grandmother was born in Aberdeen and her 26 year-old father’s occupation is described as ‘Agent (Singer Sewing Machines)’ and the 1881 census confirm that he was one of three such agents in Aberdeen. Glasgow was home to 6 Agents at the time, Perth 4, Edinburgh 3, whilst Stirling and Inverness had only one apiece . In addition to these 18, there were half-a-dozen in lodgings and boarding-houses and perhaps another 30 in their homes in many towns all around the Country including Ardnamurchan, Argyll which is as far West as the mainland goes.

Nearly 35 years following that birth, in 1910, this Hatter and Hosier is described on his Death Certificate as a ‘Commission Agent’. As far as I know, he maintained his relationship with the company through the years during which he established and ran his Hatting business in the city.

The Managers of the factory in 1881 and 1891, the only years that I have discovered, were two Scots, Alexander Anderson and John Strathearn.


Singer Sewing Machine – BBC ‘A History of the World’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/NSvyFk_zReCWtadTXMVwoA

Clydebank http://www.information-britain.co.uk/county56/townguideClydebank/

Observing a Wedding

Although it is now commonplace for weddings to take place in all manner of locations in England, and the tradition of them being held in the bride’s home long-established in Scotland, this one remains unusual.

It is the 22nd Nov 1875 and we are at The Observatory, Dunecht, Parish of Echt in Aberdeenshire.

The groom is 25 year-old William Milne, a Commercial Traveller (in 1881 an Agent with the Singer Machine Company), from the Parish of St Nicholas, Aberdeen and his bride is 22 year-old Jeannie Cairns, a Domestic Servant, from the Observatory.

A brief history of the Observatory is given below:

Lord Lindsay’s new Observatory at Dun Echt, which was 12 miles from Aberdeen.
David Gill was invited to became directory of the observatory in 1872. Gill was given the task to equip and supervise the construction of this new Observatory, which Lindsay insisted on being the very best possible.
Dun Echt Observatory flourished for almost twenty years but, in 1888, on learning that Scotland’s modest Royal Observatory in the city of Edinburgh was under threat of closure Lindsay, now 26th Earl of Crawford, saved the day by magnanimously donating the entire contents of his observatory including its by now priceless library to the nation.
The whole was housed in a new Royal Observatory building, completed in 1896, which remains the home of Edinburgh astronomy with Edinburgh University’s IfA (Institute for Astronomy) and, the UKATC (United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre).
Brück, H.A., 1992. Lord Crawford’s Observatory at Dun Echt 1872-1892. Vistas in Astronomy 35: 81-138.
Lindsay, [Lord] and Gill, David, 1877. Dun Echt Observatory Publications, Volume 2. Dun Echt Observatory.
Dun Echt Observatory Publications (Vol 1, 1876 Vol 2, 1877 Vol 3, 1885) at http://cdsads.u-strasbg.fr/

In addition, a year before the nuptials, Lord Lindsay organised an expedition to Mauritius to observe the 1874 Transit of Venus, a vital observation in accurately calculating the distance from the Earth to the Sun:

Transit of Venus

I do not know whether Jeannie lived in accommodation associated with the Observatory or in Dunecht House; whether she was employed wholly in household duties or also assisted with the instruments and associated astronomical paraphernalia; but I do know that the location was an unusual one…

…and that the young couple were my father’s maternal grandparents.

Serving King & Country…

The 7,267 ton merchant ship Tahsinia was completed in 1941 by William Doxford & Son Ltd of Sunderland. She joined the fleet of the Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd in Glasgow and was put under the charge of 51 year-old Captain Charles Edward Steuart.

On the 28th September 1943 she left Colombo,Sri Lanka (having sailed from Calcutta) en route to the UK via Aden with over 7,000 tons of cargo, including tea, manganese ore and pig iron. She had no escort.

Fregattenkapitan Ottoheinrich Junker, the 38 year-old captain of the Monson Boat U-532 was patrolling the waters North-East of the Maldive Islands when, on the 1st October, he first torpedoed the Tahsinia and then sunk her with gunfire. She was the third of his 8 victims and he was duly rewarded with the Iron Cross, 1st Class.

Captain Steuart, his 39 crewmen and 8 gunners all survived. On 6th October, 23 of them mad landfall on Mahdu Atoll in the Maldives from where they were taken to Colombo by an Indian dhow. The remaining 25, including Captain Steuart, were picked up by the British merchant ship Nevasa some 10 miles West of Alleppey Lighthouse. They had been in their lifeboats for a whole week. The Nevasa took them to Bombay, arriving there on the 11th October 1943.

On the 7th December 1945, 54 year-old Charles Edward Stuart died in the Western Infirmary, Glasgow. The causes listed on his Death Certificate are Subacute nephritis, Uraemia and Cardiac failure. That the true cause was the damage wrought by those 7 days in an open boat in the Indian Ocean is testified by his listing on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site which records his final resting place in the Glasgow Crematorium.

However, that is not quite the end of the story because 3rd Office Steuart had also been injured in WWI as a result of which he met a hospital nurse Louisa Ogg Hall who, although 11 years his senior, he married on 16th February 1918 in Aberdeen.

Years earlier, a family holidaying in Aberdeenshire had a gravely ill son and the call went out ‘for the best nurse in the Land’. Whether Louisa was indeed the best in the Land, or merely the best available locally, is not known, but it was she who was despatched to look-after the sickly child.

It was, apparently, touch-and-go whether he would survive but, due in no small part to the care of his nurse, he recovered.

His grateful parents rewarded Louisa with a brooch which now resides in Canada.

The little boy’s name was Albert, but he is better-known to us as George VI.

Captain Steuart was always known in our family as ‘Uncle Charlie’ but is was in fact Louisa who was my Father’s 1st Cousin on his mother’s side. Upon Louisa’s death in 1951, my aunt in Canada inherited the brooch which is in the form of a monogram bearing the parents initials, G & M