Generation: C

Archibald Black

Margaret Mackay

Born: 1850 Died: 1916
Father: William Mackay
Mother: Janet Murray


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Margaret Mackay (Mrs. Black, later Mrs. Walsh) 1850-1916. She had six children. Archibald was a seagoing chap. He died in middle age at sea. Buried in the Masons' Cemetry, New York. Mr. Walsh was a cabinet maker and a wanderer, from a good family. No family by him.

Margaret and I in the last four years have had the pleasure of meeting some 18 of her descendants, in Generations E, F and G! But I never met herself! My aunt left Asdle probably in the year my father was born. So there was 16 years difference in age, and each had little interest in the other. Mrs. Grace Rudell, of 1155, West 64th Avenue, Vancouver, has written up her family history well. She introduced us to all her family relations there in 1973, a splendid group. Mrs. Margaret Carruthers, now Mrs. Frank Brown, in Windsor, Ontario, took us to meet her daughter, Mary and eight grandchildren there. We have also met Mary, May and Ann Black, three sisters, 162, Baldwin Avenue, Scotstoun, Glasgow. A lively lot, good talkers and facile pens. Then we have visited Marion Brechin, 18, Kirkstone Avenue, Carlisle, whose married name is Mrs. Davies. Her son writes books. I hope I haven't missed out any other group! Mrs. Carruthers and her husband were the last members of the family to live in Lonachuan. They had a son born there. Alas, he died last year at Windsor. They left the croft about 1924. It was an uneconomic proposition.

RLM 25/3/71

Margaret Mackay (Mrs. Archibald Black, later Mrs. Walsh)

1850 - 6th April 1916

Her life at Easdale, and at Lonachuan.

When I started to write these sketches of my aunts and uncles some four years ago, I began thus: "Aunt Margaret is a bit of a mystery to me. She married twice, and one of her husbands died a natural death. I remember my father sometimes mentioned her name in conversation with his brothers and sisters, but I recall no facts thereon" ... and after a few errors in dates and places... I ended thus: "She had two husbands, five children, could talk, had a piano, had a struggle in Glasgow and another at Bonar Bridge, a mixture of the gay and the sad."

Slowly a picture of her has developed.

At the time of the 1851 census, she was the first-born of the ten children of William and Janet Mackay, just a year old, and living at the croft Easdale, above Bonar Bridge. Her father was 24 and her mother 23, crofting on 4 acres of poor moorland soil. Her grandparents in the adjoining croft (John Murray II and Ann Matheson) were farming 8 acres and looking after two young grandchildren as well, namely Ann Rose and William Murray (China Bill). Ten years later the old grandparents had retired, and Margaret's father was tending 10 acres. By this date Margaret with her younger brother, John, and sisters Ann and Catherine would be trudging daily down the long road to school, and there were three young ones at home. My father, George, did not arrive until 1866.

As soon as she could do so, Margaret left the North for the big city of Glasgow. I think she would go into domestic service, an example to be followed by all her younger sisters, except perhaps Sarah. She was married on 24/9/1872 to Archibald Black, age 28, a farmer's son, and Catherine, her younger sister, then 17, witnessed the ceremony. The first of Margaret's six children was born four years later. Perhaps this delay may have been due to Archibald's occupation of seaman, with long absences from home. He died at sea as his boat was approaching New York harbour, possibly from some cardiac trouble, and was buried in the Masonic Cemetery nearby. Sarah spoke very highly of Archibald. It was he who brought a rocking chair to Janet at Bonar Bridge.

Mary Black, her grand-daughter, wrote about her: "Somewhere about 1900 Margaret married again, to a feckless character, Mr. Walsh. From what I remember this marriage never worked out. I think they parted soon after, perhaps about 1903. I know he was a cabinet maker and very fond of whisky, and Granny did not approve of that. He was always disappearing for longer and longer periods. When Granny Margaret went to Lonachuan she thought she was a widow for she had got word that some man named Walsh had died (in what manner I know not) and that this would appear to be her husband. She went to the mortuary and identified the body as her husband's and had him buried. Some years later HE turned up at Lonachuan, Bonar Bridge! You can imagine what a shock it was for her! However, she would have nothing to do with him, and sent him packing. No more was heard of him until the question of China Bill's estate cropped up in 1915. The money was not distributed until perhaps 1917, but in 1916 Margaret died, and Walsh laid claim to the portion which would have been Margaret's. He got the lion's share of it. He was then at Motherwell."

Mary, assisted by the memories of her two sisters, Margaret and Ann, continues: "My Grandmother, Margaret Black, did not take over at Lonachuan until about 1906, and she occupied it until her death in 1916. My sister and I spent our school holidays there in 1911. The party was really my mother and four children. We were met at Ardgay Station by my Uncle Donald Black with a horse and cart. Into it our tin trunk and various odds and ends were bundled. Then started what seemed to me an endless journey up the hills to the croft. We had turn about for a ride on the cart which of course helped greatly to brighten the journey. It was our first visit to Bonar Bridge. The train had left Glasgow at 4:00 a.m., and arrived at Ardgay about 1 or 2 p.m. I always remember the amazement of the natives that Glasgow children could look so healthy and have straight legs. Glasgow was then noted for rickets. Granny had four or five cows, a horse, pigs and sheep, hens and ducks. All the cows were called after one or other of her grand-daughters. She was a tall, fine-looking woman with lots of energy, which, of course, she needed on the croft. She was then 60.

"She was quite strict with us -- no 'pieces between meals'. Our staple diet was porridge, potatoes and cheese, and of course, lots of milk. She baked scones and oat-cakes. Loaf bread was somewhat of a treat then. We ran about bare-footed and bathed in a pool which used to lie a bit to the West of the house. She had a wooden churn for making butter, and it was my job to work the handle until it was ready. My reward was a fresh baked scone which I thoroughly appreciated for we always seemed to be ravenous in those days. There used to be a little burn down by the back of the croft, and the well from which we got our water was close to it. We used to carry pailfuls of it every Saturday night as, even if we had been dying of thirst, I am sure we would not have been allowed to fetch it on a Sunday. I spent the summer months and part of the Autumn with Granny Margaret on my own, in 1915. All the young men were away at the war, and it was very difficult for her. Her youngest son, Donald Mackay Black, born 1888, who had helped her on the croft, was in the Lovat Scouts. He was later killed at the taking of Jerusalem in 1917."

"The two of us used to sit every evening when she would read the Bible and give me a little lecture. Very often she would talk of her parents and relations, but at that time I paid very little attention. I realise now I could have learned a lot if I had been interested. That was the last I saw of her as she died a few months later".

"My cousin, Margaret Brechin, (Mrs. Carruthers), now in Canada, occupied the croft for a few years with her husband (1921-24), and their first child was born there".

"John Mackay (Ben Reay) and his sister Margaret, my Granny, did not seem to be on friendly terms, and I have a hazy feeling the bad feeling was about the croft. It was later rented out to a new tenant, then became vacant and fell to pieces. Yes! My grandmother did have a piano, a rare possession in a croft. My Uncle Donald played quite well, mostly by ear, and many a sing-song took place in the evening when the neighbours would gather for a ceilidh. We children of course were upstairs in bed, much to our chagrin. One of her neighbours bought the piano after Granny died. She also had a spinning wheel which was in the Brechin family for a while, probably in an antique shop now".

Margaret Carruthers also wrote about her Granny, from which I quote: "When we reached the croft, Granny had a pot of hare soup all ready, but my mother, (Margaret Brechin) was not quite equal to it, and had a boiled egg. I myself loved it there. I loved to go out to the peat cutting, to bring home the peats and stack them. Granny attended the Gaelic services, and on special occasions would walk three miles there and back, in order to be present. My Uncle Donald sang in the choir of the United Free Church there. My mother told me that her Mackays came from Ross-shire, and after the wreck they came to Sutherlandshire, and it was they who dug the first sod at Lonachuan (i.e. Andrew Mackay and Elspeth Murray). Our son, George was born there, the first birth since Hugh Mackay in 1860."

Dr. John Buchanan wrote: "The last time I saw Mrs. Black was in the first week of January 1915. The place, Lonachuan, was feet deep in snow, the well and burn frozen feet thick, a horse had died, the chimney was choked and the turnip pits were solid. I clambered onto the roof with a stone, a clump of heather and a rope and cleared her chimney and watered and fed her animals. She was living on a settle in the kitchen and I slept in the loft. The roof was of corrugated iron and was not lined... I thought I would die from the cold... I left in a day or two. It was terrible that the British Government should have taken every man from that hillside to the Army - only old Sutherland, a man past sixty, was left. The deer were down eating the turnips and nothing to stop them."

RLM: "My Aunt Margaret had three sons and three daughters; all married and had families. I never met any of them, alas, but I have, since starting this study, met five of her grandchildren and one great-granddaughter... a most pleasurable set of meetings indeed. When I was in camp at Tain in 1915 I did visit Ardgay to see my Uncle John, Ben Reay, but did not know I had an Aunt at Lonachuan just four miles away. I suppose the reason was that my father was 16 years younger than Margaret, and neither had much interest in the other... yet in Glasgow they lived around St. George's Road, not a mile from my home in Blythswood Drive.

I wonder what the departed spirits of Margaret and my father George think about all this typing activity going on in Wolverhampton now, and shortly to be continued in Vancouver, Canada??? Lonachuan is now a roofless ruin, its fallen walls a windbreak for the sheep on the hills, its site, from a distance, marked on the skyline by two lonely thwarted trees. It reminds me of skylines on the Somme in 1916.

RLM 25/3/71


Margaret Mackay (Mrs. Archibald Black) 1850-1916. And her offspring.

The first item to be recorded is that my wife and I met three of Margaret's grand-daughters in September this year, 1968. We met at the new hotel at the Kirklee boating Pond, Glasgow, by arrangement, for I had corresponded with the eldest, Mary, on this history.

I had to wear a Mackay tartan tie, and the husband of Anne Black was to wear a hat and to take it off, for we had never met before.

I left my Margaret in the bar of the hotel, and went out. There was a single, competently, neatly dressed lady near the corner of the road, obviously awaiting an assignation. We immediately recognised, with no hesitation, our opposite numbers, and still immediately, (for this was Mary, looking like 50, but actually just over 60), we were joined by Margaret her younger sister, who had been on guard, I suppose, at another corner. Then, just above us, was a gentleman, wearing a hat at a fierce angle, with his hands in his pockets, who approached with a slight lounge in his gait, accompanied by his wife, Ann Black. He took off his hat as he approached me, revealing to my astonishment a head completely devoid of hair, and absolutely round and red. This was Eric Wylie McNair Smith, and Old Boy of my old school in Glasgow, namely Hillhead High School, but of a different vintage from me.

There was no delay over drinks, and we had a fine lunch together. Talk started immediately. And it never stopped.

The ladies were a fine trio. I thought Margaret a little bit shy, while Mary kept things going, sitting opposite to me. My Margaret was beside Eric Wylie McNair Smith and his wife, so I had less of an innings with them. But E.W.NcN. S. was very interesting on his experiences as a Prisoner of War in the last affair with the Germans. Apparently he had a German grandparent - hence the baldness - but he could speak English with a perfect Glasgow accent. He had been captured, I think, in Crete. His wife was most pleasant and got on well with my wife. Both E.W.McN.S. and his wife had worked together in the Post Office before marriage. Margaret told me she had been working in a tobacco factory for some years, while Mary said she was in the Inland Revenue, and had endured the blitz in London during War II.

As I asked them to chose what they wished from the menu card, I noted they all avoided the smoked salmon (which was 7/6 extra) and the lines from John Gilpin came into my mind: "And though on pleasure she was bent she had a frugal mind!". Bless them!

I ventured to ask Mary why she had not got married. She said she had the opportunity of going to Canada, etc. I inferred, probably correctly, that as the oldest daughter, she had decided to remain and look after her ageing parents. That has happened before in our family! We'd like to meet them again.

The first generation after Margaret Mackay Black produced three engineer sons, one, alas, killed in action when he would have liked to win back to Lonachuan where his heart was. The next generation seemed to produce craftsmen and local government officials and a regular soldier, a rarity in this family. Andrew Black kept in touch with his aunt Sarah Macdonald in Larchmont, New York, for a time but the connection has long since been broken or not maintained by his children.

Margaret's descendents are located in loose bunches around Vancouver, Ontario, North Carolina, Glasgow, Carlisle and London. One of them, Hunter Davies has just published a book on the story of the Beatles. Mary Black, so far as I am concerned is their excellent literary representative, ably backed up by Margaret Carruthers in Ontario, who is recently widowed.

I am hoping to hear further from the McCabes in Canada, about my cousin, Janet Black, whose early years in Scotland were spent at Bonar Bridge and with her aunt Sarah at Aberdeen.

I was encamped with the Argylls at Tain, near Ardgay, in 1915, and walked up to visit my uncle John, Ben Reay, then. Why did I not know to visit my Aunt Margaret who was then at Lonachuan, and I think she must have been in considerably hardship then?

No accounting for family relationships!

In my tables there are 89 names in the four generations after the union of Margaret Mackay and Archibald Black.

So far as I can learn, being a junior, she had as many crosses and troubles to prove her as any of her sisters and brothers. Her last years at Lonachuan, midst the privations of War I, and in failing health, and alone, show that she was made of good stuff. Her descendents can indeed be proud of the old lady, as she would be of them.

Matthew XI. 19.


Grace Rudell has left with me a copy of a letter written after 9/11/1909 but undated. It is from RLM's Aunt Margaret Black, not yet Mrs. Welsh. It is from the croft, Lonachuan at Bonar Bridge, and states that my Aunt had been looking after my Uncle Donald for a month there, "but it did not do him any good" and he had died. (Cancer of the stomach). When the letter was written, my Aunt had her daughter, Margaret Ann Black Logan staying with her, plus three children. And "the harvest was later and cold and barely finished last week and the crops not very good". Logan had gone to Canada and had not written home for 18 months.

It would appear that Aunt Margaret was a good bit better than some have made out! I feel pleased to record this.

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