RLM: Epistle 1:
I now come to Generation B, my Grandparents, William Mackay (1827-1907) and Janet Murray, (B) (1826-1895). They married around 1849, happily I believe, and I am impelled to treat their story as one.
Some of you have already been up that wee road which joins together the four crofts of Lonachuan, Achuan, Aisdale and Cregnachlachul, each a further half mile up the hill. We can guess at the march of events in their lives. Can you build up their personalities from the evidence I produce?
Andrew Mackay I died at Lonachuan in 1836, only 55 years old, leaving two young sons there, namely Andrew Mackay II and William, aged 17 and 9, respectively, to take over the work of the croft. Andrew II was already competent about the place, a good reader and writer. Young William was learning fast. They had each survived a cholera epidemic in 1832. In 1836 there was famine in the North. Times were hard for the boys. Their neighbours must have taken an interest in their welfare. Outstanding would be the help and encouragement of the kindly John Murray II and Ann Matheson, who had been through the mill of hardship together. They were only a mile away, up the road, and besides they had several fine daughters, especially the two youngest, Elspeth (1821-1876) and Janet (1826-1895).
So, on 21st March 1843, Andrew II married Elspeth and on 21st December 1843 Donald Murray Mackay, the first of their ten children, was born. They were ardent lovers! Five of their off-spring were to go abroad, two to New Zealand, one each to North Queensland, Canada and The States.
The marriage of Andrew II and Elspeth must have put ideas into the heads of William and Janet. There must have been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing among the crofts. But William must have been a bit 'cautious', for it was not until 1849 that he married Janet, both being about 23 years old. But Janet's parents were aging, Great John was 70, and Ann 60. So young William and Janet took the croft 'next door', only 4 acres, plus some pasture on the hills, and on this slim and hazardous foundation they commenced to raise the first of their family of ten children, namely Margaret (1850-1916). The brothers were slow starters, perhaps, but they stayed the course!
I picture the situation at Aisdale at the time of the 1861 census. William had now 10 acres to farm. They had seven children all under the age of eleven, and next door were Great John, age 84 and still able to write a very good letter, but getting deaf, and Ann, helping all she could. What with her wains, her parents, the housework and the stock about the farm, Janet must have done a bit of running about that year! And she had still to produce three more children! Her man was a strong man!
I now come to what other folk have told me about William and Janet. I was 11 when Grandfather William died, but I do not remember seeing him. Nor do I remember whether my father went up North to the funeral. My father rarely spoke to me about his relatives or about his childhood. Certainly twice at least, he described old William as being "a hard man. Never gave me a penny in his life". But sometimes Janet gave him a penny, or even twopence when she could spare it. My notes suggest that William may have worked on the roads in the winter, in the district around, sometimes with one of his sons. In spring and summer all his time would be devoted to the croft.
What do you make of the following?
Jessie Howie, (D), my sister, then in U.S.A. wrote: I recall my father's respect and warm feelings for his mother, Janet, but I imagine there was a negative feeling for his father William. My mother did have a visit from Grandfather William to Glasgow, and was scared of the taciturn old man, who, I gather, as well as being forbidding in appearance, went around in her middle class district as he would in the fields and isolated glens of his Highland home. Mother was a stickler for Victorian dress and deportment. (Jessie was 7 when Grandfather died, and 68 when she wrote this).
Jessie Petterson (born 1895) (D). New York. My cousin wrote: He was very stern and cross. He was also mean.
Frank Gordon MacDonald, Blairgowrie (D). My cousin wrote: Old William came to my parents' house at Caldercruix, and stayed one night with my mother, Isabella. I was then about 11 years old. (It would be 1902. William would be age 76). At the end of the visit I had to escort the old chap to the station. On the way he took me into a shop, bought a purse, put a shilling in it, handed it to me. He appeared a big man, quiet spoken, with black hair and black beard. He wore rough tweeds and was well groomed. Frank also reported that his mother Isabella had told him that Old William her father "had 4 or 5 or possibly more ponies which were used for the deer stalking, and for the grouse sheeting in the season". Also that some of her brothers and sisters would go out with the ponies and help to unload the panniers. Apparently William also had sheep, and killed one off as required, keeping the meat in brine baths during the winter. He had also pigs for household use. These were hung up and smoked. There was no bread at all, except a white loaf at Christmas, and this was a great treat.
Grace Rudell. Vancouver (E), quoting her mother Janet Black, my cousin, who lived at Lonachuan for a time when Grandfather was old: The other real gentleman was Grandfather William Mackay.
Grandfather registered his wife's death with a cross, and not with a signature, so I wrote to Helen Buchanan with an enquiry about whether he could write. Helen put down the following barrage:
But I'll give you a few hints! Grandfather was NOT ILLITERATE! 1) I read letters he wrote to my father. 2) Uisdean Achu (i.e. Hector Calder of Achuan) a near neighbour, to the last assured me that he could do the three Rs very well, and being a Mackay he could count, of course. 3) An Aberdeen teacher like Spittal, who was also the Registrar and usually anti-Highland, was doubtless in too great a hurry to wait for the signature on Janet's death certificate. Hence the mark! 4) Per his Southern sons he also got the Glasgow Herald. I think no less than sixpence, not a poor man's paper, which he shared with neighbours with news of the various bloodbaths into which the English Government so lightly expended the man-power of the North. He had somehow picked up more than the current amount of schooling in Easter-Ross-Culrain, including the recondite science of cyphering.
For him and his brother Andrew their word was their bond. He and Andrew were noteworthy in having what we call good relations with any humble workers. My mother (Ann Buchanan) used to say she had never heard her father having to raise his voice to get things done. It's news that he was stern, as he is said never to rebuke any helper or herd; a look would do.
Another from Helen:
Grandfather never swore. Never fired a shot. Personally I think he had an inferiority complex. He was too shy 'to let on', also thought too much of his wife to do so. He used to unlace his wife's boots or shoes when she came in after herding, and incidentally writing to her numerous relatives. For Meanness! He hadn't much for himself! He used to throw peats out of his cart to the doors of aged female neighbours. In appearance he was the best looking of the lot! Over six feet tall. Splendid black and, I think, curly hair. I doubt if he was ever bald. Since just after his marriage William had been a tenant at Astle. After all, Janet was the youngest daughter and longer had bairns to feed. John his eldest son (i.e. Ben Reay) must have helped Grandfather at times, and possibly Donald too, for he was interested, as later he or they roofed Lonachuan for their parents.
As you know, Grandfather did tarry in Glasgow for a year, working about Buchanan Street and Cowlairs Railway Depots. Of course, he was never permitted to visit us (i.e. the Buchanans). Once we had measles, and the two Nicolson boys might be smitten. The Berlin Wall had been built! Raeberry Street (still a broad street in the Maryhill District of Glasgow) was his, and of course, Grandmother's abode; as far as I know her only crossing of the Highland Line. Grandfather went to the wedding of his daughter Isabella in 1880, so that surely marks the period in Glasgow. Grandfather had two unlucky brothers in the Crimean War, under Sir Colin Campbell, the 93rd Regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who formed "The Thin Red Line".
I have now to put before you what I have been told about my grandmother, Janet Murray Mackay (B) 1826-1995. She was sometimes called Jessie. Indeed, my sister and my cousin, Jessie Petterson of New York were both called Jessie after Grandmother! Which shows how the Mackays think! But their thinking has the sanction of Withycombes Dictionary of Names, which says the names Janet and Jessie are interchangeable in Scotland!
George, my father said:
My mother Janet was splendid and a very hard worker. She was thoughtful and cheerful. She provided the meals for her children very well from slender resources. We used to eat our midday sandwiches on the way to school, and had often only water to drink for our break.
Jessie Howie (D) my sister wrote:
Janet's children always received two hot potatoes in their skins, one for each side pocket to keep their hands warm in winter as well as to satisfy their hunger. The memory of one delicacy which my father retained all his life was of a pail of cream being placed out of doors on a freezing winter's night, and when it turned to ice-cream the result was never to be forgotten. I was told that a barrel of oatmeal and a barrel of flour were always kept in the loft, while salt herrings, served with potatoes in their jackets was a frequent meal. My mother Mary Lindsay sometimes served this in Glasgow to please my father.
Sarah (C) her youngest daughter recorded:
On Sundays William and Janet would drive to the church at Migdale with a horse and buggy, while the kids would walk barefoot, carrying their clean shoes which they put on just before entering church.
Helen Buchanan (D):
Janet was kindness itself. When the orphan boy, William Murray (C) 'China Bill' was to come to Bonar to live with Janet's parents and to go to school there, Janet went down to Invergordon pier to meet him. The boat was late and she got very tired of waiting for she 'gauted' (yawned) so much that she dislocated her jaw. (1852, about). Grandmother used to take out her pen and ink and write to her relatives, Donald of Rutherglen especially, while herding cattle on the hills. Peats were very handy at Aisdale and at Lonachuan, and al fresco meals and an almost open ceilidh was enjoyed by all at the peat-lifting.
Jessie Petterson (D):
Grandmother was one of the best. My mother went to Lonachuan when I was six months old (1895). The old couple were getting ready to go to church when Grandmother fell. Mother (Sarah) just caught her as she was going to get a kettle of hot water off the fire. She had a stroke. Grandfather was outside, hitching up the horse and buggy to go to Communion at Migdale.
Ladies and Gentlemen! I leave you to assess these uncensored opinions, and pass briefly to some facts. Then I might essay a little semi-historical speculation, trying to get answers to my own questions.
When Andrew Mackay II died in December 1890 at Lonachuan, then Janet and William left Aisdale and moved into Lonachuan. "Janet loved the place", wrote somebody to me. By that date all their ten children had gone away and most were married. From then on we hear no more of Aisdale further up the road. It was Janet's birthplace, her old parents were both dead. It was also the birthplace of all her ten children. It has served its purpose. It could go to ruin, and it did!
At Aisdale, they had the following children:
Margaret. (Mrs. Black, Mrs. Welch) 1850-1916. Died at Lonachuan. John Murray Mackay. "Ben Reay" 1852-1927. Died Ardgay. Ann. (Mrs. George Buchanan) 1853-1936. Died Glasgow. Catherine. (Mrs. James Robertson) 1855-1928. Died New Jersey, USA. Isabella. (Mrs. Donald MacDonald) 1856-1946. Died Aberfeldy. Andrew. (md. Miss Campbell) 1858-1900. Died Glasgow. Donald. (md. Mary Currie) 1860-1909. Died Glasgow. Helen. (Mrs. Malcolm Nicolson) 1863-1941. Died Helensburgh. Sarah. (Mrs. Alex MacDonald) 1865-1947. Died Larchmont, New York. George. (md. Mary Lindsay) 1866-1940. Died Wolverhampton.
I have a good photograph of my grandmother, taken around 1880, in Glasgow, probably the first and only time she faced the camera. So she looks grim, expectant, wary. Eyes alert, concentrated on what may happen. Her lips thin and down-turned. She holds, with one finger inserted in its pages, what looks like a Bible. A favourite Victorian pose! Her dress is of the time, a wide dark flowing skirt, over which is a shawl. Her hair is all hidden in a cap tied below her chin by a wide scarf, which reaches down to her waist. The print is not good enough to show jewellery, if she had any; But who can read a character from a photo?
Aisdale! I know its ruins well now! Ten children in 16 years! Janet would need big pots and pans and a huge kettle, for her teas, her soups, stews, potatoes, porridge for her hungry kids. She would aye be giving out jobs about the place to the bigger ones as they grew up; water from the well, peats from the stack outside, watering and feeding the horse, and tending the animals, collecting the eggs. There was scarcely an end to her work.
The boys did a bit of ploughing. I remember my father, waiting for a train at some wee station persuaded the nearby ploughman "to let him have a shot at it". I myself had a turn at the plough last war in France, just for fun!
I did not hear of homework from school. It was a full three miles down to the school, the track rough, with few landmarks, treeless, and in winter cold and often misty. There were from the three crofts, Aisdale, Achuan and Lonachuan in 20 years at least 27 Mackays and Calders, and remember there were nine other crofts nearby occupied by Mackays. Old Spittal the schoolmaster must have been sore tried, whiles!
Next to the school was the church, where Rev. Dr. Gustavus Aird preached from 1843 until 1898! 55 years! He baptised all ten children. Many a long sermon, many an un-ending prayer! How did the kids do for boots? And for clothes? Groceries were collected once per fortnight by cart from Bonar. Oatmeal, sugar, salt, flour and salt herring would be basic purchases, for William grew his own vegetables.
At nights, whiles, Janet and William must often have talked about their childrens' future. There were no local employment opportunities. Of the six girls, the youngest was ordained by God, or Mosaic Law, or national custom to remain a spinster and look after the aging parents. The other five had to seek employment in Glasgow as domestic servants, and to keep in touch with each other. The four boys too sought jobs in Glasgow.
In general, as I look at the careers of all ten I would say they were not a sporty or athletic crowd. They ran few risks, life was serious. They preferred relative security to adventure, orthodoxy to heterodoxy, peace to war. They did not learn to appreciate the arts of music, painting, sculpture, nor of public speech. Religious argument was discouraged because that would be poaching on the territory of the Minister. Yet, somehow or other, the children acquired a life. There must have been a lot of "Take care now, and don't get into Mischief". Bad company, drink, the music hall; All these represented Mischief!
I realise I've got serious, all of a sudden. This will never do!
Let's go back a hundred years, to the two wee crofts at Aisdale on New Year's Day, 1871. Janet was up before the light, Old Ann Murray next door, now a widow of 86 years, was taking it easy in bed for she knew visitors would be coming. She had been fending for herself fairly well, but was grateful for the help William and Janet gave her. She'd rise when her room was warmed up. She no longer writes letters, but letters keep coming to her.
Janet's six children, next door, are aye coming and going. What a noise some of them make! They know this is a very special day. There has been such a lot of baking yesterday. My father, George, age 4 1/2, and his sister Sarah, age 5 1/2, are very excited. Helen and Donald are real helps in the house on this occasion. They still go to school. Andrew, 15, and Bella, 16, are still wondering what lies ahead for them in 1871, for they have left school. Their three older sisters, Catherine, 16, Ann, 18, and Margaret, 21, have all gone into domestic service in Glasgow. Margaret indeed is engaged to a seagoing man named Archibald Black, and John has been accepted for the Police Force!
Andrew Mackay from Lonachuan, with Janet's older sister, Elspeth and three boys have come over. They always liked to visit Aisdale. Most of their kids have left home. Donald, 28, was rising well in the Bank of New Zealand. George was in the USA, and Catherine somewhere else and thinking of Canada. Andrew, 28, an adventurous spirit, had gone to Australia to take part in the North Queensland Gold Rush. Their somewhat crippled daughter, Margaret, "Crupach" in Gaelic (? old infantile paralysis) one of the very best in the family history, was with them and helping everyone with food and drink.
Ann's other two daughters, Catherine Calder from Achuan up the road, and Annie Rose, from Baddarach, were coming too, with some of their children.
What a Day for the Old Lady! She must have wished old Iain mor could have heard all the news. She, at any rate, took it all in. She had it all in her head, even if she didn't have a map. What a geography lesson for the wee ones! Uncles, aunts, brothers, sister, nephews, nieces, cousins, neighbours, schoolmates; scattering all over the world, and news coming back from all those distant places to the two wee cottages at Aisdale.
And did Ann guess that her eldest son, Donald, The Provost, had only one year to live?
The only link we have up there now is my second cousin once removed, Kate Mackenzie of Achuan. The rest of us are scattered over the Globe!
The Diaspora of the Mackays, Murrays and Mathesons is complete!
RLM Epistle 4:
All these ten children were born at Asdle (Easdale, Aisdale, etc), a hamlet of perhaps six or seven adjacent crofts. There was another Mackay family resident there at one time, but not related to ours. Asdle is shown on the O.S. Map. One house had a separate name, i.e. "Craigton", where John Murray and Ann Matheson lived. It has become the barn to a newer house of the same name, occupied by a Mr. Campbell today. I have not walked over the area of the hamlet, inspecting foundations. I think it likely that William Mackay's ruined croft foundations would be within 100 or 200 yards of Craigton. All ten children went to Glasgow, the six girls entering into domestic service, and remaining there until they acquired husbands.
RLM 1976, Sixth series Chart 6: Helen Buchanan, my 1st cousin, said my grandfather William and his brother Andrew II tried a spell of work in Ayrshire during hard times. Also my grandfather William had smallpox in his youth. (Confused with chicken pox?)