See also George's will, in archives.
GEORGE MACKAY. 1866 - 1940. Buried Carthcart Cemetery.
It is over 30 years now since the old boy died. I am sure that if he is looking down on me now it would be with a gentle smile on his face, amused that he should be the subject of a biographical sketch, but incurious about what should be said therein. Honoured, however, that he and his forebears would be a subject for study by generations much junior to his own, and modest indeed about his own place in the line.
I remember many years ago an old Scottish doctor saying to me, "You know, Dr. Mackay, I don't understand my son Bill". Full of confidence I replied, "Don't worry, Doctor, I don't understand mine! We're not supposed to". We call this 'the generation gap' now. So what follows is a simple narrative, and not a psychological analysis.
My father was the youngest in a family of four sons and six daughters, his parents being William Mackay and Janet Murray. All ten children were born in a little crofting named Astle, Easdale or Asdle, some 3 miles North of Bonar Bridge, in Sutherlandshire. The actual building is now in ruins, and two newer houses were erected on or adjacent to the site. Janet's ageing parents lived at the croft 'next door'. William's older married brother lived at the croft Lonachuan about a mile to the South with Janet's elder sister Elspeth Murray, (B).
Strange, perhaps, I never heard my father complain of hardship or of poverty. The crofting was of a subsistence type, the family's habits frugal, and there were no crops and few animals for the market at Bonar. At home the speech was in Gaelic, but my father abandoned all use of that language on coming to Glasgow. I never heard of him reading books up there; there would be only candles or paraffin lamps at night. He did not learn poetry or songs, except "The Standard on the Braes of Mar". I'm not sure whether that is a Jacobite theme. Anyway, the Mackays were not Jacobites! He did not talk of poaching, playing truant, earning prizes, and he never learned to swim. Up there was little opportunity for vandalism or gang warfare. In summer he ran about bare-footed, and helped on the croft.
I always had the impression that he came to Glasgow at the age of 12, and further, that he had only one job in his life. But his own documentation shows how far we can go wrong in our memories. One day my observant sister, Jessie Howie, noticed very faint writing on the back of his birth certificate in pencil and in his own distinctive handwriting: "Came to Glasgow 1st June 1980. Went to S. McD. 26th Sept 1882". Then on the front of the certificate in the same writing: "1st June 1880. S. McD. 26 Sept 1882."
The S. McD certainly represent Stewart and MacDonald Ltd., the firm for which he worked "all his life", i.e. for the next 48 years until he retired. When he went to this firm he was therefore 16 years old. What did he do in the two previous years? I sought the answer from my older cousins. Only from Helen Buchanan, who says she is cursed by an excellent memory for what she should forget, did I get a reply, and then after several attempts. She thinks her mother Ann told her that my father worked in a pub! And that he became very efficient at cards! Probably his older brothers and sisters got frightened, and got him away to a safe trade - the drapery warehouse!
I think this must be true. The explanation would be that my father did really have only one pukka job in his life, and the pub did not count as a job at all. Another thing I now remember is that my father was to me tantalizingly quick at dealing out cards, and he taught me a game called "Catch the Ten" in my early youth. I forget the game now. We did not play it long, for I was not interested. Nor did I ever see him play cards, apart from a rare game of family whist. Perhaps, as a parent, he had come to look upon cards as an invention of the Devil. I think he also modified his views on drink about the same time, for I do not recollect him ever having a second whisky in my presence!
We know that my Grandfather spent two years working in Glasgow, and that he was present at the wedding there of my Aunt Isabella on 12th October 1880. Was my father also at his sister's wedding? Did Grandfather William permit his youngest son to work in a pub? Anyway, when George got settled in at Stewart and MacDonalds the old couple probably when straight back to their hills. Perhaps the croft was untenanted in their absence and re-occupation was easy.
Idle musing! How it steals the time! I've still got my own birth certificate but there is no pencil writing either on its back or front!
Father served an apprenticeship with S. and McD. for 3 years, at 3/6, 5/- and 7/6 per week. How did he live? With five older sisters and three older brothers all at work in the city he must have received some help from them. It never occurred to me to enquire. I should have started earlier as an amateur historian, and kept a diary too!
I don't know how he filled up his time between the age of 16 and 21. He did attend Mr. McEwan's Dancing Class for Young Ladies and Gentlemen. There he met my mother, becoming engaged to her when he was 22 and she was 18. But they waited seven long years before marrying! Maybe the Lindsay Seniors were a bit hesitant about this raw laddie from the Highlands, who knew a bit about cattle and sheep, and ploughing, and had that queer Gaelic as well, and who never spoke with a Glasgow accent. Who had an ear only for the music of the pipes! None of the Lindsays had ever married outside of Paisley or Glasgow! Sutherland was Ultima Thule! Come to think of it, there must have been a sustained effort for my father to prove himself worthy of these Lindsays. No wonder he saved his early pennies. I remember Mr. Campbell, a West Highlander friend of my father, telling me how the old chap used to "Guard" his fiancée at dances from the undue attention of potential rivals!
Anyway, the Great Day came at last. His photos at the time of his marriage to Mary Lindsay show him very well turned out, with bowler hat, good suiting, white linen collar, tie-pin. There was also a real gold watch with a real gold watch chain - to insure punctuality in his engagements! He had by then a life assurance policy for £100, a sickness insurance for £1 per week, had paid for his new furniture (some still in use by the family today, I'm delighted to see), paid for the first quarter's rent for his flat in Bank Street, and had £50 in the Savings Bank. And he took my mother for a honeymoon, Northwards of course, along the Caledonian Canal to Inverness! These Victorians! These Highlanders!
In due course he had a department of his own at S and McD. His sole job for the rest of his life was the buying of flannels, blankets and later of quilts, and selling these through the travellers of S and McD at a profit. A 9 till 5 job which in retrospect I reckon an easy one. Yet, then, as now, employees could get fired quickly, and doubtless he had his anxious moments with take-overs.
I never saw my father rushed or rushing, but he was embarrassingly punctual. He, with his family, could easily catch the train before the one they meant to catch.
He was not a religious chap, but he made us dress up and go to church on Sunday mornings, and he read a chapter and a psalm on Sunday nights. He would not discuss religious problems, and told me that if I continued to ask these questions I would end up by not knowing what to believe. How right he was! Nonetheless, like his brothers and sisters brought up similarly in the wee croft at Easdale accustomed to read the Bible, I think he could not swallow The Creed wholesale, but not being good at debate, and respecting the social position of the minister and the creditability of the printed word, he was disposed to leave religious problems to the clergy.
His main social activity was the Clan Mackay Society. The great inspiration for this was by his friend John Mackay, of "The Celtic Monthly", and my father with two of his brothers was happily associated with the Editor in its revival. Another interest was in the County of Sutherland Association.
My father was right-handed in everything except golf, and this aberration was because he was loaned a set of left-handed clubs by his friend our family doctor in order to learn the game. He enjoyed it greatly, and seems to have assumed that golf was always played with such clubs. All of which shows how Mackays think, and incidentally how doctors prescribe! We often ran short races together and I was getting towards my teens before I was able to win.
In politics he was a Gladstonian Liberal, and thought Disraeli represented The Devil, until I made him read André Maurois' Life of Disraeli (Ariel) when he recanted. He read through the whole of Morley's Life of Gladstone, a stupendous achievement. It is of uniform unendurable dullness. He distrusted Lloyd George, thought Episcopalianism was half-way towards Rome, hated landlordism and the Income Tax, and still felt angry at the memory of The Highland Clearances. He was in favour of Free Trade, Home Rule for Ireland and freedom for South Africa. He said there were honest Jews, but very few honest Irish Roman Catholics. Bribes he would not accept. The side of bacon which came to our house at Christmas for 2 or 3 years was not a bribe but a present.
One can easily build up for him a picture of a sober, dull, methodical, self-reliant man, a bit of a Puritan, but there was another aspect of his character. He once narrated to me, with tremendous laughter and big tears running down his cheeks, the situation in a railway carriage, or compartment, when he was travelling with some colleagues on business. There was something wrong with the lighting in the train at the time. He had a small contrivance of wood and rubber, which, when compressed in the palm of the hand, emitted a series of rude noises, the pitch of which could be varied at will from high doh to low doh, the rate, rhythm and force being also variable. At each tunnel he produced these noises, and there being no lighting in the compartment, no one could guess who was the offender. The whole company was in an uproar. Who was the miscreant? All kinds of threat were made against the guilty one. My father was not suspected because "he had a good reputation". It is interesting that this trait should miss a generation and then re-appear!
He had the best of health until his fatal illness in his seventies, a malignant prostate, except for an extremely disabling attack of lumbago coming on acutely as he raised his spoonful of porridge one morning. He kept off work only that day, but thereafter he always had a red flannel lining made to his waistcoat with each new suit.
The War certainly altered his views. He would buy a Sunday newspaper, and he talked a lot more with me. He had promised me as a young boy a gold watch if I did not smoke or drink until I was 21. But when I came home on leave after the battles of the Somme and Arras, and was not yet 21, he shyly asked me if I would like a wee whisky. I got the whisky at once, and the watch later.
He was completely devoted to my mother, who was of a gayer type than him. But during War I she became ill, and had several operations. The finest qualities of his character then showed, and he never failed to help and comfort her, ensuring for her always the best treatment and specialists he could get. Later when I returned to the University he became interested in all I told him about life therein (I was selective, of course) and he often came out to rugger matches, although he did not quite understand the game.
About the age of 62 he retired from selling blankets, and as a widower, had a small bungalow built for himself at Largs, Ayrshire. About then I borrowed a large slice of his small capital to purchase into a medical practice in Wolverhampton, giving him an I.O.U. for the sum. It took me ten years to repay the loan and when I had done so I asked him for the return of the I.O.U. He replied that he had destroyed it some time back.
One year Margaret and I took him to the follies Bergère in Paris. It was a continuing show and I think Mistinguet with her wonderful legs was on view. About 11 p.m. I said, "Come along, Father. It's time we got back to the hotel". "Oh, Wait a bit, I've never seen anything like this before", he answered. We had, but we waited.
At Largs, he was friendly with the Episcopalian vicar at the church opposite his house. Sometimes the vicar would visit him and have a wee whisky with Father. But Father would not enter the church. He was Non-Conformist to the end!
Margaret found a neat little house near our own in Wolverhampton for the last year of his life. When my great friend, Rev. George Macleod visited him on his death bed here he was not wanting any prayers said for himself. So the talk was light and easy indeed. He asked to be buried in the family grave in Cathcart Cemetery (Compartment Q. Lair 877) with his wife. (This is quite near the Lindsay graves). After a year of painful illness the day of his funeral stands out for me as a very happy memory indeed. We had all the relatives to a meal in the Central Hotel, Glasgow - as the old boy would have wished. Many had not met for years. I did not even know of the existence of some of them. We talked and talked and told stories, and finally I saw them all off down the road, after a decent interval, arm in arm, the best of friends to their different abodes.
My cousin, Jessie Petterson of Rye, New York, a helper in this family history, wrote to me in 1967: "I want you to put in writing about your father: When my mother made up her mind to go to Canada in 1907 she had very little money, for my father had been a long time ill. She asked your father for a loan of money (I know it hurt her pride to do so) to pay the passage over. When she got settled and began to earn wages she started to pay back the loan. After the second payment he wrote and said not to send any more. "Consider it paid!"
Before I finish, I recall that the men of whom he spoke about with respect were David Livingstone, General Gordon of Khartoum, Brigadier Hector Macdonald, Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Asquith. An explorer, two soldiers and two politicians!
At Largs, his next door neighbours had been kind to him. Before he died he made me promise to offer them the chance to buy his bungalow at cost price. If they did not accept I was to promise not to buy it myself. Doubtless he remembered the experience with Ben Reay's house years before. The neighbours did buy it, a very good purchase indeed for them. He had shown his gratitude to them well.
He was a good husband and a fine father.
Mary Lindsay. My Mother.
Born 9th April 1869. Died 28th August 1920.
It is a subject of very great regret that I cannot write as much about my mother as I would wish, for, when I left home for the war in 1915 I was just 19, and when I returned in January 1919 she was a dying woman. I missed much.
She was the second child and elder daughter of Robert Lindsay (B) and Mary Jack (B), and was born at 276, Parliamentary Road, Glasgow. At the time of her marriage she was living with her parents, brothers and sister in a flat at 107, Dundas Street, Glasgow. The building is still in existence, but the neighbourhood is transformed. My father was then in lodgings at 456, St. Vincent Street, not far away. The Banns of Marriage were duly proclaimed in the parish churches of St. David and of St. Vincent.
I seem to remember some books of the improving kind about our house which were prizes she won at school, but I do not remember the name of the school, nor the subjects in which she had done well. She wrote carefully, with a clear steady hand, her lines well spaced and neat, an example which I ought to have followed. I was the first but not the last Lindsay failure in calligraphy!
Before marriage she was a book-keeper with Nelson, Shaw and MacGregor, Buchanan Street, where her father was employed as a carpenter-upholsterer. I think her only place of work, so she would be there from the time she left school, say at 14, until she married at age 26, i.e. for some 12 years. I believe she first met my father at Mr. MacEwen's Select Dancing Class for (select) Young Ladies and Gentlemen! I went there myself for a term some 30 years later, although I am still doubtful about my qualifications! She was engaged to my father for some seven years, from about 18 or 19. A much longer engagement than has been usual with the Lindsays lately!
As a young girl she became a member of the Baptist Church, by immersion, like the rest of her family. She was married by the Rev. Dr. David McIntyre, the Minister of Finnieston United Free Church. I fancy my father was an adherent there, but never a member. I expect McIntyre had the Gaelic! But why not married in the Bride's church? My mother had a pleasant voice, but not the same ear for music like her father and brothers. One of the great joys of her youth was to attend the Annual Ball of the Serjeants of the 5th. Battalion Highland Light Infantry with her brother John. For this she had a special tartan dress, the Mackenzie tartan, as worn by the regiment. There is a photo of her thus dressed somewhere in our collection, and in it she looks bright-eyed and happy. I am sure she had a liking for the dance, music hall, concerts and a bit more gaiety than my father in those early days of marriage had been disposed to share, perhaps 'allow' is a truer word.
From the time of her marriage onwards all her attention must have been given to the running of her home. She usually had a resident maid, some young girl from the Highlands spending her first year in the city in our little 3 or 4 roomed house, and sleeping in a recessed bed in the kitchen. They were useful for lighting the fires, making simple breakfast and scrubbing and polishing the floors, but not much else.
We all had to go to the nearby United Free church in Grant Street, where the Rev. Archibald Campbell read the dullest of sermons. Father once said to him "That was a wonderful sermon you preached when you were up for selection here". "Aye", said Campbell, "I was word perfect. I had preached it often before." But Campbell was West Highland and had the Gaelic, and Mother had to put up with Father's choice. The kirk would be nine tenths empty.
My father had had a stiff struggle early on, and was always sure there was a rainy day coming, and he must be prepared for it. He sat at one end of the table - the little mahogany one which Mary Kille now has - and Mother at the other. When she needed money for the house, he took it out of the locked drawer at his end, and she put it into a purse and then into the little locked drawer at her end. My impression is that what passed was by present standards not overmuch... but then values were different and needs simpler. But in those days it was widely acknowledged that the husband controlled the purse. My father followed that pattern, and my loyal mother conformed.
I sometimes wonder how much fun she had - certainly never anything boisterous. She enjoyed shopping in town, and keeping up with the changing feminine fashions in a modest way. I remember her surprise when short skirts and the hobble skirt became popular, and how she sought my opinion about how her purchase suited her figure. She had her few but constant friends round for afternoon tea. For these she baked cakes very well, and displayed her silver teapot, and best linen. But they all had to finish before the old chap came back for HIS tea. Some of my youthful escapades, as well as my childish ailments must have worried them both. She was a marvellous nurse when I was ill for some months with a TB abdomen.
We always lived in a flat, first at 42 Bank Street, near the University, followed by 138 Cambridge Drive, where I was found one day cleaning the windows with my little legs over the window sill. Then at 11 Blytheswood Drive, where we boys formed little rival gangs, but did not do any harm, except to our clothes. Finally we landed at 41 Hillhead Street, because of its proximity to a good school. The rent there was £40 per year, a high one for a four room house. Our early Saturday afternoons were usually marked by a walk as a family, all neatly dressed. We bought 3d chocolate cubes (1/4 lb) and often half a dozen fancy cakes, seven for sixpence, Scotch fashion.
My mother enjoyed reading the novels of her time, and also poetry. Her most quoted one was "Barbara Fretchie", very popular then. Both my parents urged me to piano lessons, but they got no dividend, alas. The teachers were hopeless, and as a pupil, so was I. My mother had no genuine interest in politics, religion, prayers, ceremonies or social reform. Her place in life, somebody said, was the Home. She made the best of it, and it was a happy one.
When I returned from the war in 1919 her ill-health made long talks with her a strain. Perhaps I was often too much occupied at the University making up for lost time. We sometimes talked about Robert Browning and his lines "God's in His Heaven", etc. For she was an optimist. Several times she said to me that all she wished for me was a good wife and a happy healthy life. And that was enough, she thought.
She had a lingering illness with spinal caries. My father and sister, aided from time to time by a nurse, looked after her with marvellous kindness. And that was the end of Mary Lindsay. A good mother and a good wife.
And she had her wish!
At this very moment as I was typing out this last paragraph her granddaughter, Mary Lindsay Kille, has just phoned from Helmsdale to wish me a Happy Birthday, my 73rd! So life goes on!
And I've just discovered that I have inserted the carbon sheets the wrong way round, and I'll have to type this page all over again. So life goes on!
John Lindsay, Mary's nephew:
John had only a rare contact with his aunt Mary. He does remember her trying, quite without success, to persuade him to take some rice pudding. The senior Lindsays were always keen on rice pudding, preferably with an egg stirred up in it! He visited her house once, and received a very good welcome. He remembers her as a gentle personality, and kindly.