Generation: A

John Matheson, "The Diarist"

Born: 1772 Died: 1856
Father: Donald Matheson
Mother: Helen MacDonald

Elizabeth Gunn and Margaret MacIntosh


[Home] [Index] [Picture Index]

John Matheson, 1772-1856, The Diarist. His writings provide us with most of the information about the Matheson branch. He was in the 2nd Battalion Sutherland Fencible Regiment, became Pay-Sergeant, served some years, a part of his service being in Ireland.

One child by Elizabeth Gunn. Then married (1804) Margaret MacIntosh of Daviot and of Barrowfield Dyeworks, but had no children by her.

RLM: R.S. Murray (RHM: Who?) of Denholm, Belfast, has a book on Sutherland inscribed "John Matheson - Barrowfield Dyeworks, 7th Jan 1823". How did he get that? He refused to sell it, about 1971, although I asked twice. No answer.

The John Matheson Diary and Memorandum book are too large and so have been placed in the notes section.

Into the pages which follow I have collected, purposely without any attempt at selection, all that I could glean from many sources, about the careers of the descendents of John, The Diarist, and of his unfortunate brother George, of The Meikle Ferry Disaster. I have not proceeded to tell of generations junior to that of George The Preacher, discretely leaving that pleasure to others. My account is purely factual. It leaves much unanswered and unexplained. It will therefore give rise to much speculation among those with interest in psycho-analysis. Such folk will, possibly, be best able to describe the Matheson Mind! After all, one eighth of my own genes, for good or ill, are of Matheson type! I can even spot some of them in myself!

We have in our literature two men, Pepys and Boswell, whose diaries are much esteemed - I would not exchange either or both for John Matheson's humble record. Innocent, as he believed, of any literary ability, he has unconsciously shown himself as capable, modest, pertinacious, honorable and generous. He is not my ancestor, but he is certainly a corner stone in the Matheson Edifice.

Curious! I feel I have got to know John well. I picture him going back to Sutherland in 1793 to do penance before the Kirk Session, just like Robert Burns had done a few years before in Ayrshire. Or going home on leave during his six years army service, or dashing up by coach to help his widowed mother during the Clearances and his widowed sister-in-law in her distress. Once can see him in his modest digs in the city, working away at his private accounts in such a curious fashion. And the last scene of which I have record, of John sitting in his room at Kirn Park, Dunoon, trying to work out the principles of his last will and testament on 3rd. August 1848, a lonely widower in his 76th Year.

R. L. Mackay. Wolverhampton. 9th June 1972.

Epilogue on Sergeant John Matheson, "The Diarist"

John died at Kirn Park, Dunoon, on 2nd October 1856, aged 84 years.

There was no memorial notice or biography in the Glasgow Herald in the following days. There were no local papers in Dunoon or Oban then. In his will John desired that his wife, son and descendents should be buried in the grave he had bought, No. 110, Wall B, in the cemetery at Glasgow Cathedral. This lair with its railing, and painted inscription had cost him no less than 46/2/5 1/2 in 1824 - a very considerable sum then. He was probably buried there, for there is a worn back stone with the words "Burial Place of John Matheson". His wife was alive on 6th June 1832, (see his will) but, in spite of all my education (!) I cannot determine from the will whether she was alive on 7th October 1840, or even on 3rd August 1848 when he executed two codicils. I have not ascertained the date or place of her death, nor her burial place. Why no inscription of her name at his grave? Who slipped up?

John's only son (by Elizabeth Gunn) did not accept his father's offer, but purchased a vault for himself, his wife and family - Epsilon No. 46, in the same cemetery. He, his wife and four children are buried there!

John's nephew, George Matheson, did not accept the privilege of resting alongside his uncle, but bought and used a plot - Zeta. No. 103 nearby - for himself, his spouse and their flock!

My researches show that today there are dozens of Mathesons, Murrays and Mackays who qualify under the Diarist's will for a place beside him, against Wall B. in Glasgow!

The Diarist was such a generous, kindly fellow that I do not understand why there are not a number of references in his Diary and Memorandum to Elizabeth Gunn. Perhaps there were, in the pages cut and torn out of his Memo Book. Who would remove them? John himself? One of the executors? There is a record of a payment of 20 on 15th August 1825 to Elizabeth McBain. Could this be Elizabeth Gunn, who had come South and married a McBain, a very rare name in Sutherland? She would be then about the same age as John, i.e. 53.

In his will and codicils John made ample provision for his widow, his only son, his two younger sisters, and for the children of his deceased brother, George. No one else came into it. By the time of the Diarist's death, his son John, then age 64, had probably received many gifts from his father, and was already a wealthy man in his own right. In a document dated 1860, the Diarist is described as a "Landowner". The inventory of the estate stated that the total value of his household goods, silver, books, cash in banks (four different ones!) etc. amounted to 645. I don't know whether this included landed property or not.

I found no reference to any social activities after he retired to Dunoon. It is surprising that John should have had only one child. As he survived to age 84 he was probably a pretty healthy man.

Rogart Churchyard must be stuffed full of Mathesons and Murrays of our family.

Hugh Matheson (1720-1805) - Diarist's grandfather. Donald Matheson. Died 1793 - Diarists father. Helen Macdonald. Died 3/3/1810 - Diarist's mother. William Matheson. 1778-1803 - Diarist's brother. Hugh Matheson. 1783-1805 - Diarist's Brother. Ann Matheson. 1786-1875 - Diarist's sister, RLM's G.G.M. Probably some aunts, uncles and cousins. Probably John Murray I (died 1798) and his wife Ann Sutherland (died 1839) - RLM's G.G.G.F. and M.) John Murray II (1777-1868) - RLM's G.G.F. Alexander Murray I, of Inchure and his family

I have now, 1972, little hope of getting any additional documentation about John, the Diarist. His Diary and his Memorandum form his memorial. Donald Murray (later the Provost of Rutherglen) saw in 1855 "the trees that Mr. John Matheson of Kirn Park, Dunoon, planted when he was a boy living there (in StrathCarnaig) and the ruin of the house where he was born, at Craigkilisie". R.S. Murray, of "Towerburn", Denholm, Roxburghshire has a book, on the fly-leaf of which are the words "John Matheson, Barrowfield Works, 1823". The existence of this book gave me the clue to the discovery that this splendid fellow, John Matheson, once lived.

What a thrill to resuscitate him!

Well, Kinsfolk, this marks the end of the Matheson Trail for me! I am grateful to my father, George, for innocently setting me a challenge to explain the ancestry of the Rev. Dr. George Matheson, D.D., Ll.D., F.R.S.E. and how a so-called second cousin marriage came about. The following table explains it, namely the marriage of a man to the daughter of his cousin.

Dr. Molly Johnstone generously allowed me to see the diary of the first John Matheson. Correspondence with Mrs. Doreen G. Mould of Kincaple, and Donald Ian Alan Matheson at Falmouth gave me encouragement. Quite a number of folk innocently led me into cul-de-sacs, claiming relationship with the Preacher. Finally, you will get a copy of what I am now typing only if James Matheson of Glasgow repeats his generous act by having it copied out for you, and yours. As I am sure he will.

I may add a remark or two, in an appendix, about the Preacher, and some items overlooked by his biographers.

R.L. Mackay June 1972.

[Home] [Index] [Picture Index]