Wee, sleeket, cowran, tim’rous beastie

I hate meeces to pieces!

Recognize that? You’re dating yourself if you do. That expression comes from a cartoon program, The Huckleberry Hound Show, that ran from 1958 to 1961. In particular, it derives from a segment of the show called Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks—Mr. Jinks being the cat who hated the two meeces (mice), named Pixie and Dixie.  (The label in this photo is incorrect, incidentally–the cat’s proper name is ‘Mr. Jinks’ with a ‘ks’.)

Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinx

And, actually, I don’t hate meeces. At eight or nine years old, I used to look after my friend Ann’s pet white mice when she went away on holiday. I like mice, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs, so having a ‘moose loose aboot the hoose’ (as the Scottish might say) would not be a huge problem for me, except for their unsanitary habits.

Also their destructive propensities—chewing indiscriminately, and carving out nests in places we’d rather they didn’t.

Also their ability to breed in a short time frame, and increase their nuisance potential.

Also their ability to carry disease to humans.

two mice

I’ve heard it said that mice are incontinent, but another source tells me that it’s worse than that. Mice will constantly urinate—on purpose–to mark out their territory.

And as for mice carrying diseases which can be life-threatening to humans, the ‘house mouse’ is a primary carrier of Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, which can be acquired by individuals who are exposed to fresh urine, saliva, droppings or nesting materials.

Then there’s the potential for salmonella infection when a mouse has contaminated a working surface where food is prepared.

While hantavirus is also mouse-borne, and is an extremely serious and sometimes fatal illness, it doesn’t appear to come from the garden-variety house-mouse. Hantavirus comes to us from deer mice.

In any case, mice and humans cannot cohabit happily—at least not from the human perspective.

An important thing to bear in mind is that while one might see only one mouse, the odds are pretty good that there will be more than one in residence. A mouse litter consists of six babies who will all mature in six weeks, so an infestation can happen rather quickly.


And since their teeth do not stop growing, a mouse must wear them down by chewing on things. If they’re nesting in walls or burrowing into insulation around large appliances–areas where there might also be wiring or tubing–it could be a serious problem.

Mice in nest

I keep my dish towels in a drawer in the kitchen, and it appeared to me they were using it for their toilet. I’ve taken to storing my dish towels elsewhere while we deal with the unhygienic interlopers.

Imagine wiping your dishes with cloths upon which a mouse has pooped and peed. Not good. Disgusting at best, dangerous at worst.

After finding the poop in the drawer, and hearing suspicious noises from the dog’s stainless-steel food dish when we weren’t nearby, we knew that there were small critters helping themselves to Willie’s leftovers. We also knew that murder needed to be done–it was them or us–but I for one didn’t fancy ‘doing the hit’ myself.

My husband set a trap near the dog food, and I got up the next morning to find a mouse with his one paw caught in the trap. He’d dragged the trap into the middle of the kitchen floor, trying to get out of it.

After exclaiming the requisite, “Oh no…this is AWFUL!” (a sentiment doubtless shared by the victim) I scooped him and the trap up in the dustpan, grabbed a pencil, and made for the back door. Then I wedged the pencil point under the trap wire holding his paw, and released him into the wild. He limped a bit, but he still had three good paws and that would have to do. I noticed that he was a fat little thing. Been living very well, apparently.

And no doubt there were more where he came from.

Thought perhaps I should borrow a cat. Wish I had my own. Have to confess that I don’t like a cat’s method of keeping the vermin population down, but perhaps ‘needs must.’ It’s greatly tempting to just hire a hit-man (hit-cat?) and fuhgeddaboudit.

Cat and mouse

Cats seem to enjoy playing with their prey, which I imagine to be a kind of torture. I think about the terror of the poor mouse when under the power and control of a cat. In normal daily life, fear does not seem to feature strongly in a mouse’s makeup; they are intrepid explorers, and will approach humans under the right circumstances. But a cat batting a mouse around, chasing and nibbling on it–as inclination directs–would likely be a nightmarish experience for the smaller of the two.

This extract from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno gives us another explanation for why a cat toys with its prey…

For I will consider my cat Jeoffry,


For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

Nice to think that the cat’s motive in tormenting a mouse prior to biting its head off is to give the mouse a sporting chance to escape. I somehow doubt that this thought is foremost in the feline mind, however.

In any case, a cat-in-residence might be a useful deterrent to a mouse-in-residence.  The latter will not like the smell of the former, and might consider a moonlight flit on that basis alone.  A nice and easy solution–no bones broken and no blood spilt.

My feelings for mice are much in sympathy with the thoughts expressed in this excerpt from the poem, To a Mouse, on Turning her up in Her Nest with the Plough, by Scottish poet Robert Burns:

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!

Yes, they steal our food (or dog food), but the poor beasties must live. I just wish that they would choose to live elsewhere than in my kitchen. It seems that they might be nesting behind the built-in dishwasher, where we cannot get at them.

Unlike a cat, I do not like to torture mice. I suffer when I find one in the trap still alive. It wouldn’t be so bad if their necks were snapped and they died instantly, but that hasn’t happened on at least two occasions. We use traps because we don’t like the idea of poison.

I was sitting in the family room the other evening, after evicting the one mouse we’d caught, and another mouse came out and had a look at me. Cheeky beggar. He knew I wouldn’t do anything more than shout at him to get lost. Which I did. No point in getting up; he was gone in a split second.

But I’m hoping he’s permanently gone now. My husband re-set the trap, and I heard a loud ‘snap’ yesterday evening. He went to check–I refused to look–and this time the trap wire came down on the poor wee beastie’s neck, and he went to Mousie Heaven instantaneously. I didn’t look, even then, for fear that there would be some signs of life and possible continuance of suffering—which would then be compounded by my own, empathetic suffering.  At that point I just wanted to fuhgeddaboudit.

I had been looking at humane traps on Amazon that same day. Humane mouse traps entice the beastie into a container that one can take outside. Much better, I think.

Will go ahead with the purchase if there are indications of a continued mouse presence in our home. Mouse murder is too psychologically and emotionally traumatic for some of us. Eviction is infinitely preferable.

Wonder if it is now safe to return my dish towels to the drawer? In the interests of prudence, I shall remain vigilant yet a while…



Therefore, be ye also wary…

This is a continuation of the Petrie family history from Part 1 (“Therefore, Be Ye Also Ready”)

Why the slight alteration in title, you say? Because a good portion of this article deals with misinformation of all sorts, and from many sources. Genealogists Beware! There’s a load of utter rubbish out there, and it’s not all inaccuracies in Internet information. Some published books are wrong.

My banner page for this part—Part Two of three—still shows the Petrie tomb monument in Sligo Cemetery (Ireland), but it’s a slightly longer view. This photo was sent to me by the Sligo Town corporation after they cut away the trees at my request (bless them forever).

When I was in Ireland a few years ago, the yew trees had grown up to completely…and I do mean COMPLETELY obscure all sight of the tombstone. You’d walk right by it in Sligo cemetery, and never know that there was a grave marker there.

This is the ‘BEFORE’ view of the Petrie monument…

1 Tombstone, Sligo Old Cemetery BEFORE, overexposure corrected

Can you see a tombstone in the middle of that?  And, incidentally, the base of the monument you see in the lower right-hand corner belongs to the neighbours.  It’s not part of the Petrie monument.

When we were there we gave up looking and asked the cemetery custodian if he knew where the Petrie tomb was. He did, and he showed us. And he said that there was some law from the 16th century—Henry VIII’s time—that was still in effect, and that essentially forbade cutting back yew trees because they were needed for making long bows. (Ummm…hunh? Is there really much call for long bows these days?)

Frankly, I had to wonder whether we were being fed a load of blether in an effort to dodge a bit of maintenance work. Maybe that’s not fair, but when I inquired further by going to the town corporation, the action was taken to cut away the enveloping yew trees and expose the tombstone to view. Ask and ye shall receive! And nobody fussed about destroying the raw materials for the long bow industry.

They did a lovely job. I have to say that at first I was almost hesitant to ask for the trees to be cut back because I thought it might expose the grave marker to the elements and cause the inscription to wear away. But, as you can see in the banner image, they cut the trees back to make a natural arbor, which will continue to shelter the grave marker, while still making it accessible. I could not possibly be more delighted.

This makes a kind of analogy with research into family history. If you accept surface appearances—or what’s told to you by others–and go no further, the truth of your family history will remain obscured. Always take the extra step and verify information. Go to original sources when you can; otherwise you won’t see your true ancestry for the trees.

And, above all, do not…and I repeat…DO NOT put unverified information on the internet. Anyone who does that is doing a great disservice to succeeding generations of family genealogists. Even if you feel compelled to make a leap of faith based on clues found in your research (which is fun to do, I admit), SAY SO. People should not be misled into accepting our wild flights of fancy as fact.

In my recent internet travels in search of background information on the Petrie family drownings off Bartra Island in 1886, I came across an Irish internet site with someone’s recollection of the event.

He was all wrong.

He said that the incident happened in the ‘summer of 1884.’ No…it was July of 1886. And he said that there were four people drowned, two young men and two girls. No…there were FIVE people drowned, two young men (Alexander Petrie and Jack Wilson) and three girls (two Wilson sisters, and Ellie Petrie, Alexander’s sister). And he said that two of the people drowned were Wilsons—which confirmed for me that we were talking about the same event–but ‘No,’ again. There were three Wilsons drowned, two sisters and their brother. Then he said that the father of the Wilsons owned the salmon fishery on the Moy River. I think that he must have meant the Petries. I don’t know if the Wilsons owned a fishery, but the Petries definitely did, and they were the major players in that industry for the area.

So he was wrong, wrong, wrong. And the archivist/librarian had ‘approved’ his contribution. I was thinking, ‘How could she do that?’ And why would the contributor send in foggy memories of something that would be published on the internet and might be misconstrued as fact?

I looked for the site’s contact information, and sent them an e-mail, giving them a scanned copy of the newspaper report of the event in 1886, which provided the names of the victims. My e-mail was brief, included a cut-and-paste of the inaccurate story, and my corrections to it.

The answer I got was that their site was all about oral traditions and stories passed down, and they didn’t really care if anyone got the facts wrong. My corrections were of no interest to them.

Well, that’s a little too esoteric for me. How can people value or embrace distortions of events, even if they are posted on a site that’s all about the alterations made by the human memory on past events? I follow Sergeant Friday’s philosophy of life: ‘Just the facts, Ma’am.’ Looking at it from a researcher’s viewpoint, they might at least have added a footnote to correct the date. That way someone who wanted the newspaper details would have a fighting chance of finding them.

That aside for the moment, this section of my family history concerns, in part, the family business and its failure; the decline of the once-thriving and enormously successful Petrie fishery business of Sligo, Ballina and Limerick (Ireland), Wick (Scotland), Bay of Islands (Newfoundland), and Carleton Canada East (New Brunswick).

Below is the company letterhead…

1.5 Fishery Logo on letterhead

Here’s a quick run-through of the various branches of the Petrie fishery business during the second half of the 19th century…

“Carleton Canada East” was a bit difficult to pin down, because while I know it was on the shores of the Bay of Chaleur, it’s very close to the border with Quebec, and “The Gazetteer of the World,” (London: Thomas C. Jack, 45 Ludgate Hill; Edinburgh: Grange Publishing Works, 1885) seems to put it in Quebec:

“Carleton, a post-village in Bonaventure co., Quebec, Canada, at the foot of the Tracadièche mountains, on the S. shore of the Bay of Chaleurs, 5 miles NE. of Dalhousie, New Brunswick. The bay opposite the village affords a safe refuge for shipping. Carleton has a great herring-fishery, a branch bank, and four stores. Pop. 500.”

Even while the Gazetteer says Quebec, I believe that the Petries considered themselves to be in New Brunswick—which they may well have been. ‘Carleton’ may be a different place from ‘Carleton Canada East.’

This article from The Sligo Champion newspaper of August, 1867, mentions “the bay of Shalloor, New Brunswick.” A transcript follows for better readability.

2.5 Bay of Shalloor article, Sligo Champion, Aug 1867

Mr. William Petrie, the proprietor of some of our largest salmon fisheries, has recently established a Fish-Curing Depot in the bay of Shalloor,* New Brunswick. The undertaking has been attended with a very considerable outlay and much close industry, but the proceeds are most likely to give an ample return to the spirited proprietor. On the 16th inst. Mr. Petrie’s brig, “The Mag,” anchored in Sligo harbour with a cargo of 2,400 barrels of well cured herrings, which shall be disposed of at prices that must be considered a boom [sic] to our neighbourhood. “The Mag” made her passage from New Brunswick to our harbour in the short time of 17 days, and returns immediately for another cargo.

*should be “Chaleur”

Another mention of the Petrie fishery on the Bay of Chaleur, New Brunswick, is below [apologies for the source not being referenced…this one got away from me, and the source will be referenced if/when I manage to find it again]:

PETRIE’S Fish Store was in Bridgefoot Street now Fish Quay at the Post Office. PETRIE wasn’t just interested in the local catch as shown in a Government report of 1869 which states that:

“A store has been opened in Sligo by Mr. Petrie for the sale of cured herrings, cod, and salmon, all imported from Port Chaleurs, in New Brunswick, where Mr. Petrie has established a regular fishing colony, consisting of Scotch coopers and curers, under the direction of his sons, and living and working in houses built by them. He purchased two vessels, one of 300, and the other of 600 tons, and these convey the freshly cured fish from New Brunswick to Sligo, where the demand for the article exceeds the supply.”

From these two pieces of information, I think we can conclude that the fishing operation at the Bay of Chaleur, New Brunswick, lasted at least a few years, possibly 1867-1870, before my great-grandfather Alexander moved on to Newfoundland to scout-out a new base for the Petrie fishery there. In any case, I believe the Bay of Chaleur operation was closed down after 1870-71.

The fact that Carleton continues to be on the letterhead logo in 1876 may have more to do with logo re-design and stationery-reprinting costs than fact.  (I’m guessing.)

Below is a picture of Carleton from roughly the same time as the Petrie fishing base, 1866.

2 Carleton

Carleton in 1866.
Image : Thomas Pwye, Canadian scenery Gaspé, gravure. Collection Musée de la Gaspésie. NAC : 99.28.395.

Whether this was ‘Carleton’ or ‘Carleton Canada East’ is open to conjecture, but in any case it shows something of the general area for the times.

The other places named on the logo are Sligo, Ballina, and Limerick in Ireland, Wick in Scotland, and Bay of Islands in Newfoundland. The banner states: “Fish Imported and Exported.”

The following map shows the locations of Ballina, Sligo, and Limerick.3 MAP 1 Ireland, with Ballina Sligo Limerick

This map shows Sligo in Ireland, and Wick in Scotland.

4 MAP 2,Scotland and Ireland

A bit of modern-day information on the Irish locations, from Wikipedia:

“Ballina is a town in north County Mayo, Ireland. It lies at the mouth of the River Moy near Killala Bay, in the Moy valley, and had a population of 10,361 in 2011. County Mayo (Irish: Contae Mhaigh Eo, meaning “Plain of the yew trees”) is located in the west of Ireland, and is part of the province of Connacht. Sligo is a coastal seaport town in County Sligo, also part of the province of Connacht, and has a present-day population of 20,000. The name Sligo derives from the Irish: Sligeach, meaning “abounding in shells”). Limerick is a city in County Limerick, and is located in the mid-western region of the Republic of Ireland, in the province of Munster. Its 2016 population (excluding the metropolitan area) was 94,192.”

Our initial focus is the last half of the 19th century, beginning around 1851, when the Petrie family emigrated from Fife, Scotland (Dundee, Newburgh, Errol and vicinity), to Sligo in County Sligo, and Ballina in County Mayo, in the north of Ireland.

What prompted the Petrie migration? Can’t know for sure, but there was a great deal of social upheaval during those years. Ireland took the biggest hit from the famine resulting from potato blight, but the highlands of Scotland were also affected–although starvation was less of an issue there–between 1846 and approximately 1856.

The famine happened towards the end of the hundred years of ‘clearances’ in the highlands, during which time rapacious landlords evicted the people of the Scottish highlands and western islands from the land and their homes, to make way for raising sheep. It seems that quite a few highland Scots emigrated to Canada during those years.

The potato famine and the clearances did not affect my Petrie ancestors directly, but all the movement of people in the mid-19th century must have had some influence on their own decision to move—and they ALL went, together. Interestingly, they moved against the flow. After all the Irish emigration FROM Ireland to America and other places in the U.K., my Scottish ancestors moved TO Ireland, a couple of years after the famine officially ended.

“The Great Famine or the Great Hunger was a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1849. The population of County Mayo decreased approximately 29% (388K to 274K), and County Sligo sustained a 40% decrease (180K to 128K) between 1841 and 1851.” [Wikipedia]

Hard times and food shortages in Ireland drove Irish people to emigrate. To survive in their new homelands, they perhaps had to undercut the existing labour force by accepting lower wages. That would have created pressure on the existing population, who may, in consequence, have felt driven to look for opportunities in other countries.

All that strife and struggle in Ireland generated something akin to what people suffer during wartime: deaths from illness caused by malnutrition, deaths from starvation itself, deaths from mishaps of various sorts enroute to new countries during emigration, separations of family members, friends, the break-up of communities and the social network…and why?

Here’s the culprit, the murderer of one million people, looking guilty as sin:

1.8 blighted potato tuber

That terrible time was a lesson in the wisdom of diversification. There was only one type of potato grown in Ireland (and probably also Scotland)–the lumper, and it was propagated vegetatively, which means that Irish potatoes were all clones of one another. When it happened that the genetically identical lumpers were exposed to a rot caused by Phytophthora infestans, they turned to inedible slime. One in eight Irish people died of starvation in three years during the potato famine.

The effects of the lumper’s failure were felt in other countries as well, even though their economies and food supplies did not depend so strongly on the potato crop.

A large influx of immigrants will change the social landscape. Those arriving people must be accommodated and included. They need jobs and housing and community services. Existing resources for supporting the population have to be spread more thinly to cover everyone’s needs until services can be ramped-up to a more efficient level.

Meanwhile, the decrease in population in regions the emigrants have left behind might open up opportunities for others, once the source of the problem is dealt with and the remaining population stabilized. People are needed to support the local economy and provide services to the other members of that society.

I’m guessing that my ancestors must have heard of opportunities opening up in Ireland, once the country had begun to settle down after the enormous stress and upheaval of the previous six-or-so years.

The great famine of 1846–47 resulted in floods of Irish immigrants coming into the UK. According to the 1841 census, the Irish-born population of Scotland stood at 4.8%. Ten years later it increased to 7.2% as compared with 2.9% for England and Wales. Between 1841 and 1851 the Irish population of Scotland increased by 90%. Nevertheless, as the century progressed the numbers of Irish immigrants shrank to 3.7% in 1911. The census figures, however, only recorded those who were Irish-born, while children of Irish immigrants born in Scotland were classified as Scottish.

The lowly occupational status of the Irish Catholics and their willingness to work for less than minimum wage did not bode well for the Scottish working class.

Also, the Scots appear to have been well-educated for the most part, and probably opportunities for utilizing that education were limited…

In the 17th century a new factor was driving Scots away from their homes. Schools in Lowland parishes producing a literate population resulted in five universities in a country of under a million people. This created a highly educated middle class. In an underdeveloped Scottish economy, however, there was a shortage of middle-class jobs and this caused many Scots to leave for the likes of England, to several of the Baltic States and to North America. The 19th century presented new opportunities in new destinations. Scots went to Africa as missionaries, explorers and traders. In the Far East traders conducted business in the ports of China and Japan and missionaries followed suit. For the impoverished Scot, however, Australia and New Zealand were the lands of opportunity.

Emigration was perceived by trade unions and other voluntary groups as a practical solution to unemployment and economic depression. The height of emigration corresponded with years of harsh economic depression, particularly in the late 1840s and early 1850s, the mid-1880s, and the period of 1906 to 1913.

If the Scots were better educated than many other populations, they likely had a better sense of what opportunities were available throughout the world, and how to make the most of them.

While I don’t believe my Scottish ancestors were university-educated, they had skills, knowledge, ambition, and courage. They took those things to Sligo, Ireland.

There was wealth and success on a grand scale for around thirty years, and then it all went wrong.

This photo of a Petrie family home in Tonafortes (listed in the family Bible as the birthplace of some family members) is tantalizing. Those blurry, indistinct figures in the photo may be the only images I’ll ever see of my Scottish/Irish ancestors. I have no photos of them.

1.81 The Petrie House Tonafortes, Carraroe-crop

So, what about the failure of the fishery business? Some of that story is as blurry and indistinct as the figures in that photograph.

I’ll take a broad swipe at it, to give you a sense of what happened—or what I think happened.

In the 19th century, when my ancestors ran a business that involved shipping, they must have had cash-flow problems that could only be balanced when the ships came in. They were honourable people with every intention of squaring-up when they could, but expecting their ship to come in, and seeing it actually find its way safely back to port, were sometimes at odds with one another. And when we’re talking about ‘ships’ being lost…not ‘ship’ but ‘ships’…the financial loss could be considerable. I saw mention of ships being lost in a letter written by William Petrie (Jr.), in microfilm documents at the Newfoundland archives, but I can’t find details or the official records (yet).  Newfoundland’s archivists are still indexing that body of information, and until they do, it’s needle-in-a-haystack searching, and I had to give up.

Also there seems to have been the usual fractious family interactions during the troubles–one member feeling that another is not holding up his end, or perhaps exposing the business to risks by some action or inaction (again, drawn from letters which I hope to include in Part 3). These perceptions are more likely to occur when a business has expanded beyond a single geographical area. Problems specific to foreign locales cannot always be fully appreciated by family at home base when the means of communicating are inefficient, as they were in the 19th century.

People today complain about the speed of our world, and the constant intrusion of communications into our personal time. It’s tempting to imagine that living in a 19th-century world would give us more time to relax and enjoy life (albeit a shorter life). Maybe it did, in some respects, but I have a suspicion that the slowness of communication in the 19th century was a monumental obstacle to supporting and maintaining a business, especially one that had expanded beyond the borders of one country. No one could just pick up a telephone and exchange information with someone else. It’s unimaginable to us how a business could operate efficiently when updates to conditions and circumstances could not be immediately communicated to other people.

We’ll pick up the thread from Part 1 with the letter my great-uncle William Petrie (Jr.) wrote from Sligo, Ireland, to his sister-in-law, my great-grandmother Georgina in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, on May 10 or 18 of 1894. A point to remember is that Georgina’s letter to him left Newfoundland on March 30, 1894, and he enclosed the envelope to show her how long it took to arrive in Ireland. We know that one of the Petrie fishery ships took 17 days to cross the Atlantic from the Bay of Chaleur, New Brunswick, in 1867. Evidently the postal service needed some efficiency improvements in 1894, if letter-delivery took over a month.

To recap, Georgina had been widowed when Alexander Petrie died of ‘stomach cancer’ (an unverified cause) on July 29, 1892. His will stated that he owned some property in Sligo, Ireland, and that the property was being held in his brother Thomas’s name. There was also an insurance policy.

Georgina had continued to run The Petrie Hotel in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, after Alexander’s death to support the family–which in early 1894 consisted of sons William (age 18), John (age 15), and daughters Ethel (age 10) and Annie (age 7).  This photo is from a few years later…

3 Family photo after Alexander died, maybe 1898, Wm 22, John 20, etc

Georgina had apparently initiated the correspondence with her brother-in-law, William, and while we don’t have her letter to know exactly what it contained, his response that he was ‘sorry to learn the contents of it’ tells us that there were problems. Since he returns the information that he has also had ‘a very trying time’ and that the cause of it was a debt owed to the bank, the problems Georgina has written of were likely financial.

Here’s a section of the letter…

“Your letter to hand this morning. I am sorry to learn the contents of it. & I have had a very trying time myself since my father died keeping all things going as when he died he left everything in a bad way—over £2,200 due to the National Bank Ballina & interest and he lodged Alick’s life insurance, my own, & his as security & I have not got mine as yet although my father is dead 10 years this fall.”

The writer, William (Jr.), gives us to believe that his father, William Sr., had taken a large loan (or loans) and died before repayment was made. Without wishing to doubt these words, I have to say that I am skeptical of William Sr. having made a bad business decision. He was an indefatigable powerhouse of industry and an imaginative entrepreneur–the driving force behind the Petrie family emigration from Scotland to Ireland, where, largely due to his energy, intelligence, and foresight, the family rose to their high level of prominence and great wealth. Maybe more important to his success was the fact that he was a shrewd businessman–and known for it. He was also frugal, as newspaper reports will show.

Here’s an illustration from The Sligo Champion newspaper of May 4, 1861, which was reporting on a meeting of the Sligo Corporation. I find it interesting that the newspapers published their accounts of the business at these meetings as close to verbatim as they could. A transcript follows, for easier readability…

4.5 First Part Article Wm Petrie shrewd


4.6 Second Part Article Wm Petrie Shrewd

4.7 Third Part Article Wm Petrie shrewd


Pursuant to a circular dated the 26th April, a meeting of the Town Council was held on Monday last, at he Town Office, for the purpose of receiving Mr. Wynne’s reply relative to the site for the Town Hall, and to appoint a coroner for the Borough.


Mr. Cherry was for coming to a decision at once, whether an increased sum would be given or not. He said–So far as I know of public opinion I think it is rather in favour of giving £1100. I met one gentleman in the street a few minutes ago and he said, “let us see that there will [be] no cavilling.”

Mr. Phillips—Name.

Mr. Cherry—Mr. William Petrie, and he is a very shrewd man.

Mr. Philips—None more so (laughter).

Mr. Cherry—I think we would be acting wisely by coming to a decision to give the additional £100 provided we get the place clear. In other parts of Ireland they would make the bargain for a great deal larger sums in half the time.

I have a suspicion that the humour in this little exchange has to do with the fact that William Petrie had some financial interest in the property, but I can’t be sure at the moment. My great-great-grandfather William’s property interests have so many listings in Griffiths’ Valuations that it would take more time and energy than I’ve got to sort them out.

In addition to being shrewd, William Petrie was not reticent in establishing himself in his new country (again, immigration of the Petries to Ireland took place sometime around 1851). There was a certain amount of ‘push back’ in the early days, with some of the local people regarding these immigrant Scots as interlopers, as can be seen in this article from The Connaught Watchman, of May 18, 1853…

4.8 article The Connaught Watchman, May 18 1853, Wm Petrie trespass

The article’s writer reveals his prejudice against the foreigners when he describes them as ‘invaders of our soil.’ Evidently there was some local hostility. It doesn’t surprise me that my great-great grandfather would take every opportunity of expanding his fishing operations. Whether or not he was aware of an infringement of property rights (IF there was an infringement) is another question. Given the attitude of the local people, as illustrated in the newspaper article, it might have been easier to just push boundaries rather than acquire permissions.

This next article gives further evidence of ill-feeling towards the Scottish presence in that area of Ireland—especially, perhaps, industrious and ambitious Scots like my great-great grandfather.

It’s an article from The Sligo Champion newspaper, July 1, 1854, edition. This poison-pen article (inclusive of lightly-veiled threats) was written, as I imagine, at the instigation of the upper-crust anglers who didn’t like their sport interfered with by a money-grubbing Scotsman. A transcription follows…

4.84 part one of poison pen article, The Sligo Champion, July 1, 18544.85 part two of poison pen article, The Sligo Champion, July 1, 1854

The Sligo Fishery

The present lessee of the Sligo Salmon Fishery, Mr. Petrie, and some gentlemen are just now in high dispute; the former refuses, as we understand, a free passage for the fish during the open season, and thereby is destroying the sport of the angler, and, as we conceive, materially injur [sic] his own interests, as the salmon are not allowed to reach their old spawning bed, at the head of Lough Gill, during the summer months. We believe the law is clearly against Mr. Petrie; and the parties who have taken the matter up, are formidable opponents from their rank, position, and thorough knowledge of the law of the matter. As Mr. Petrie is a comparative stranger, being a Scotch settler here, we would be sorry, indeed, he should be exposed to annoyance; but sportsmen do not like to have their privileges infringed upon, and always possess the perseverance and gallantry, inseperable [sic] from what is manly and fair. If, then, the anglers are resolved to accomplish their ends, the lessee will have himself to blaim, [sic] if he be put to trouble and inconvenience.

Again, the loss sustained by fishing fair, with a rod line, would be amply repaid by the care taken by those enjoying the sport, to see that poaching would not be permitted, or illegal nets used; no thorough-bred lover of the gentle art, thinks much about the value of the fish he takes. He likes the recreation, frequently as much for the beautiful scenery by which he is surrounded, as for anything else. Of a June evening, if he do not rise, be times, in the morning, it is a sweet thing to be on the water, surrounded by picturesque objects, and with just as much excitement as to make the amusement delightful. It is hard, then, and a source of vexation, when commercial avarice steps in to put down the pleasing interest of the sport, and destroy good trout and salmon fishing at the only season of the year they can be engaged; when the sun dance [sic] gladly upon the lake, and the breezy heights of the grey mountains send down just sufficient air to cool the body and brace the nerves.

How much could be done for Sligo, and how little has been done? The town is indeed dull and monotenous [sic] enough, but a few minutes’s [sic] drive, a half an hour’s walk, will bring the tourest, [sic] or the sportsman, into the midst of scenery which can scarcely be surpassed. Yet some way or other, these treasures of nature are not well known, or half enough extolled. Baths, too, could be erected at the Point, which, in time, would make that place a fashionable resort, and cast Bundoran into the shade. But, alas! We lack men of public spirit, so far as commercial enterprises go. However, the sportsmen, true to their manly instincts, are determined to hold their own, and we wish them all the success they deserve.

If Mr. Petrie be a wise man, he will “give and take” with the fair anglers—he will be no loser by it. If he persevere, in the end he will be defeated, and forced, by law, to do that which he should have done, long ago, out of courtsey [sic] if, he had the generous feelings of a sportsman.

I wonder what my great-great grandfather thought when he read that. Would he have found it as amusing as I do? Possibly not. This sort of thing could have a detrimental effect on his livelihood and his interactions with other people in the local community.

As can be seen, my great-great grandfather was being accused of interfering with the upper-class sportsman’s enjoyment of his beautiful scenery and his ‘delightful amusement.’ These “formidable opponents from their rank, position, and thorough knowledge of the law of the matter” were apparently the wrong sort of enemy to make.

And another threat follows…”As Mr. Petrie is a comparative stranger, being a Scotch settler here, we would be sorry, indeed, he should be exposed to annoyance; but sportsmen do not like to have their privileges infringed upon…”

These lovers of the gentle art of fishing, these ‘manly, fair anglers’ just might put him to ‘trouble and inconvenience,’ and he’ll have only himself to blame for it, in other words.

One might wonder what form the “trouble and inconvenience” might take against these “Scotch settlers” and also perhaps whether the perpetrators might really be “sorry indeed.”

And here’s a report of some hostile action taken against the Petrie family (below). This is from The Connaught Watchman of 1854 (which is apparently quoting from the Sligo Chronicle.  Again, a transcript follows…

4.83 The Connaught Watchman, June 28 1854, Malicious Outrage


MALICIOUS OUTRAGE—On Thursday night, a new and valuable plough, the property of Mr. Petrie, of Tonyfortis, was wantonly broken up in a field in his farm, where it had been in use the previous day, preparing the ground for turnips. The plough was constructed on an improved principle lately patented by Mr. Gray, of Glasgow, and was only a few days in the possession of Mr. Petrie at the time of the outrage. No reason can be assigned for the commission of the offence, as Mr. Petrie, who is an enterprising Scotch farmer, gives considerable employment, and pays a higher rate of wages than is usual in the neighbourhood—Sligo Chronicle.

We can be pretty sure that some of the ill-feeling towards the Petries came from the local gentry. I’m not sure where the ‘malicious outrage’ came from. My first thought was that it would be someone reacting to the ‘poison pen’ newspaper article, but the malicious outrage was reported in the newspaper on June 28, 1854, and the poison pen article was published July 1, 1854. The two are close in time, but reverse chronology to supporting the outrage being provoked by the article. Seems unlikely that ‘Sir’-This and ‘The Right Honourable’-That would have hired thugs to damage Petrie property—but who knows.

Notice in the following articles that William Petrie successfully appealed a conviction (albeit ‘without costs’), and that the respondents in this action were the Right Hon. John Wynne, and Sir Robert Gore Booth (a Baronet). Evidently, my great-great grandfather fought back, and against the odds. I would expect that the local bigwigs, who possessed status, money, property and influence, would have received a certain amount of preferential treatment by the judicial system, especially against a Scottish interloper.

This first article was published in The Connaught Watchman of October 24, 1855…

4.91 The Connaught Watchman, Oct 24, 1855 fishery appeal

Notice of the success of William Petrie’s appeal was published in The Sligo Champion of October 27, 1855…

4.911 The Sligo Champion newspaper, Oct 27 1855 appeal successful

With this victory, on appeal, it might be safe to say that his opponents became aware that William Petrie was not going to scuttle off, tail between his legs, and that they could expect him to give as good as he got, even after losing the previous legal battle.

That these opponents of William Petrie’s were influential people can be seen in this article from the Sligo Champion, which names them (Sir Robert Gore Booth and the Right Hon. John Wynne) to the grand jury in Sligo a couple of years later…

4.96 The Sligo Champion, March 7, 1857, the Grand Jury, Wynne and Booth

This information published in John C. McTernan’s In Sligo Long Ago gives us an idea of their wealth:

“Sir Robert Gore-Booth, Lissadell:

On the outbreak of the Famine he employed 200 men at 1/- a day, and as the situation worsened every able-bodied tenant on his extensive properties in North Sligo and Ballmote was profitably occupied.”

“John Wynne, Hazelwood:

One of the most extensive landlords in the County, who was Chairman of both the Sligo Union and the local Relief Committee…” He expended £1,000 under the Land Improvement Act in the electoral divisions of Drumcliffe and Calry; paid out £1,000 a year to labourers on his estate and, in certain instances, gave assistance to emigrant families.”

[In Sligo Long Ago, by John C. McTernan, Colour Books Ltd., Dublin, 1998, p. 297]

These men were likely the ‘manly, fair anglers’ from the poison-pen article. That Gore-Booth was a sportsman is stated here in a reminiscence by someone who knew Gore-Booth:

“I always loved outdoor sports and in Grange I devoted every spare hour, and I had plenty of time for shooting, fishing and hunting. The great man of the district, Sir Robert Gore-Booth of Lissadell House, kept a pack of Harriers and a fine house always open to his friends in unbounded hospitality.” [In Sligo Long Ago, by John C. McTernan, p. 319.]

Bad enough trying to make a fresh start in a new country without getting up the noses of these two men, but I suspect that it couldn’t be helped.

In any case, winning that appeal against them may have signalled the beginning of the end of open hostility towards the Petries in Ireland.

This next article will show that my great-great grandfather was making inroads into becoming one of the participants in municipal matters. He began to gain influence and substantial reputation–and perhaps, in so doing, became less of a target for the powerful people of the region.  This next article is from The Connaught Watchman of September 8, 1858…

4.97 The Connaught Watchman, Sept 8 1858, Wm Petrie ESQUIRE, Board of Conservators

I’m sure my great-great grandfather knew that time spent building alliances would be time well spent.

I almost laughed at the article that follows. My great-great grandfather opposed a resolution that the Water Bailiff’s salary should be doubled, and said it should continue at the present rate, forcing a vote on the issue. He lost, and the higher salary won.  He would have known the nature of the water bailiff’s work, and if it wasn’t worth that large an increase in pay, then it probably wasn’t.

Article from The Sligo Champion, Nov 19, 1864, meeting to appoint Water Bailiffs.  A transcription follows…

4.94 Appointment of Water Bailiffs, 1864 cropped


On Monday last at twelve o’clock, the Fishery Conservators met in the Grand Jury Room, for the purpose of appointing water bailiffs for the several tidal divisions.

The following gentlemen were present :–Colonel Whyte, (in the chair); the Right Hon. J. Wynne, Captains King, Lewis Jones, Lumsden, Crofton, Messrs. W. Phibbs, C. L’Estrange, T. Wood, B. Kerrigan, Heber, T. Palmer, Shaw, T. Smyth, Balfour, Byrne, Williams, and Petrie.

[Note that my great-great grandfather’s old adversary, the Right Hon. J. Wynne, is on the board of conservators with him at this point in time.]

The Chairman said that they were met for the purpose of appointing water bailiffs, and he would hear what any gentleman had to say on the subject.

Mr. Petrie said that the sum on hand for the payment of water bailiffs in each electoral division, was only £30.

The Chairman said that the head water bailiff for the Sligo electoral division should be an efficient man, and he (the Chairman) would therefore propose that his salary be fixed at £10 a year.

Mr. Petrie said that as the late head water bailiff for Sligo had only £5 as the head water bailiff would only be engaged during the closed season, a few months of the year, and as their lands(?) were limited, he would propose that the salary be fixed at £5 a year.

Mr. Wynne proposed and Mr. Palmer seconded the resolution that the salary should be £10.

Mr. Petrie called for a poll on the question. He would more that the salary of the head water bailiff be only £5 a year.

The meeting then divided, when there appeared,
For Mr. Wynne’s resolution—Messrs. Wynne, Phibbs, Heber, Palmer, Shaw, Byrne, L’Estrange, Captains Jones, Lumsden, ad the chairman—10.
For the amendment—Messrs. Petrie, T. Wood, T. Smyth, B Kerrigan, and Balfour—5.
The resolution was then declared carried.

And before we condemn my great-great grandfather for being a tightwad, consider what happened in the second part of the meeting, as this same article (1864) continues…

The Chairman then proposed that a person named Michael Burns be appointed to the position.

A man named Brereton, late head water bailiff, here said, that Michael Burns was convicted on several occasions of selling, “spent” fish, and that he was a poacher.

A young man, whose name we afterwards learned to be Mr. Michael Regan, residing at Drumcliffe, here addressed the chairman from the gallery, and said—I pay a license for fishing in the Drumcliffe river, and I have never benefitted by it, as the fish are all killed in close time after spawning, by the very men whom you appoint to preserve them. I know myself that Burns has sold spent fish.

Here several men in the gallery were speaking together, and we understood them to be corroborating the testimony of Mr. Regan.

Chairman—As to any charge coming from Brereton, I would not rely much upon it, as he himself never attended properly to his duties.

Mr. Phibbs—But he says it is on record against him.

Mr. Balfour—The fact of his being a practical poacher ought to be a recommendation (laughter).

After some conversation, Burns was appointed, and after appointing some under bailiffs, and disposing of some routine business, the meeting separated.

I think we need to consider the personalities involved, and that there might be things cooking in the background to which we are not a party.  Seems funny that they would appoint a disreputable character to uphold and enforce the fishery laws.  It takes a thief to catch a thief?

They doubled the water bailiff’s salary (as we saw, my great-great-grandfather opposed this, and was defeated), and in the second half of the meeting they appointed a man who was a poacher convicted of selling spent fish–in spite of opposition from the gallery, the record of the man’s conviction, and the statement from a former water bailiff. I wonder that my great-great grandfather did not speak up again. I can tell you that he brought many petty court cases against individuals contravening the fishery rules after his ‘retirement’ in the early 1880’s; some of which you will see towards the end of this article. Perhaps he thought that one defeat on the day was enough–or maybe he’d figured out the game and knew he was out-numbered.

The following is a record of another ‘day in the life’ of my great-great grandfather. (How fortunate that these newspapers tried to record as closely to verbatim what went on in meetings and court cases involving issues of a public nature!)

This next article is from June 30, 1866, The Sligo Champion newspaper, in which my great-great grandfather was asked to give a deposition, and answer questions in a court case to resolve fishery issues. A transcription of a section from the body of the article follows.

A little comment before you read it…I like it that my great-great grandfather came to the defense of the clerk, who likely could not be expected to know what fish, if any, were in the river. The clerk’s job was probably office work–to record things determined or decided by others. (I think the Commissioner was an ass.)

4.971 Wm Petrie deposition in court June 30 1866 Sligo Champion article header


Mr. W. Petrie was the first witness examined, and deposed that he had never seen any salmon in the river.

Mr. Thomas Russell was examined, and, in answer to the Commissioners, deposed that he is the clerk of the Conservators for the district; there is no water bailiff for the river at present’ there is one at Drumcliffe, but not so low down as Grange; was clerk at the time the water bailiff was discontinued, about three years ago; never fished in this river; never knew salmon caught in it to his knowledge; there was no salmon in it at the time there was a water bailiff, don’t know if it is a salmon river or not.

Commissioner—It is your business to know and not to allow the funds of the conservators to be squandered.

Mr. Petrie—He is only the clerk.

Commissioner—No matter. He is not paid merely to sit in his office. It was his duty to look after these things. Did you ever hear of salmon being seen in that river?

Witness—No; but I did that large trout were.

Who was the water bailiff that you knew?

Robert Moore.

Was there not a man named Kilmartan? Not that I knew of.

Do you recollect Kilmartan? No. There might be private bailiffs there and I not know it.

Commissioner—I would be glad you would get your books and not be trusting to your memory which I must say is very bad.

Several witnesses were called and did not appear.

Commissioner—It seems to me that when the commissioners come down to hold an investigation all the necessary witnesses think it their duty to keep out of the way.

Mr. Petrie thought that Grange river had been entered into before and that it would not—–

Commissioner—Can people read. The notice was about all the Sligo rivers.

Mr. Brian Kerrigan was examined by the Commissioner and stated that he knew the river in question since he was a boy; never heard of salmon being killed in it, although he lived three miles from it; often heard of trout being caught there.

Commissioner—What size trout? About 4lbs weight.

Whose is the property? Lady Palmerston’s, I believe.

Commissioner—Are there many salmon killed in the tidal part? Not many.


Commissioner—Thank you, very much, Mr. Kerrigan. Are there any other rivers in this district to be defined?

Mr. Petrie—There is one at Dromore West in which Captain King is interested. He was here a few minutes ago.

Mr. Petrie was examined by the commissioner and deposed—There are no salmon caught unless by poaching; I don’t think the tide goes into the river.

Commissioner—Does any other gentleman know of any river in this district that is not defined? No answer.


Commissioner—Now, I will take into consideration Colonel Whyte’s application to remove a quantity of gravel which forms an obstruction to the mouth of Drumcliffe River. Is there any opposition?

Rev. Mr. Crawford objected on account of certain green banks attached to the glebe, which might be interfered with. Mr. B. Kerrigan on account of a ford used by certain tenants, over whom he was agent. Mr. Petrie would not oppose if a pool used for spawning were not interfered with.

These early years of building the fishery business were important, and I’m sure my great-great grandfather was aware that the more political influence he had, the better his prospects would be. As he began to acquire ships and expand his market, he must have realized that he needed to be personally involved with the harbour authority.

This next article is from The Sligo Champion, January 30, 1869.  (If you need to see a section of the blurry article, I’ll insert it here…but I’m not sure it would add anything.  I’ve been trying to include the articles to show you snippets of documentation as backup to the transcriptions.)

The Major presided in the Crown Court on Wednesday last, at twelve o’clock, for the election of a Town and Harbour Commissioner in room of R. D. Robinson, Esq., who resigned.

Mr. William Petrie was the only candidate for the office.
At the expiration of ten minutes, the Major declared Mr. Petrie duly elected by three votes, without opposition.
Mr. Petrie expressed his thanks, not only to the gentlemen who came forward to support him, but to those who promised him their support if required. He would do all that lay in his power to benefit Sligo and its harbour, and hoped to see the day when they would have a good harbour and river.
The proceedings then terminated.

It seems that 1869 marks his official entry into municipal life, although he had been active previously.  The elevation to Town and Harbour Commissioner put him in a position where he would be much less likely to be treated rudely by a fishery commissioner, as he was in 1866 (when he came to the defense of the clerk).

While, as we’ve seen, my great-great-grandfather William was pretty much appointed to be a Town and Harbour Commissioner in January of 1869 (a rubber-stamp election), the rules changed that year.

As this next article from The Sligo Champion of November 20, 1869, tells us, there was a move to make the selection of commissioners a little more democratic.  One can but hope that such actions as appointing poachers to be water bailiffs, in spite of heavy opposition, would be less likely to happen if all boards of commissioners were held to account by voters…

The election of Harbour Commissioners, under the “Sligo Borough Improvement Act, 1869,” took place on Saturday last, at the Courthouse, under the presidency of the Mayor. The old body, now extinct, were elected for life by a constituency of £20 householders. By the new act, however, a salutary change is effected. Instead of electing men once and for life—thereby placing them in a position in which no further authority can be exercised over them, and in which they can, with impunity, disregard the feelings and wishes of those whom they represent—the electors henceforward will have the power and the right to choose their representatives in the Harbour Board triennially. By the new act the constituency is also changed. Instead of £20 householders, the £12 householders have a right to select eight representatives, the other eight to be chosen by traders paying a certain amount of harbour dues. The full board will consist of the sixteen Commissioners thus elected, two members of the Corporation, appointed by the body, and the Mayor for the time being.
The following is the result of the election:–

Representatives of Traders—J. McGowan, sq., 52 votes; Patrick Keighton, Esq., J.P., 52; Henry Lyons, Esq., J.P., 52; James O’Connor, Esq., 52; Wm. Middleton, Esq., J.P., 52; Harper Campbell, Esq., 52; Alexander Sim, Esq., Collooney 49; William Petrie, Esq., 51.

Representatives of householders—Simon Cullen, Esq., 32 votes; Wm. Pollexfen, Esq., 32; Martin W. Phillips., Esq., 29; Thomas H. Williams, Esq., J.P., 30; Daniel Magill, Esq., 29; Henry Gorman, Esq., 30; Robert Crawford, Esq., 30; and Charles Anderson, Esq., J.P., 30.

In this next article from The Sligo Champion the following year (November 26, 1870), a report on the Harbour Board Commission meeting, my great-great-grandfather William Petrie participated in the discussion about costs.  A section is transcribed below the article header…

4.985 Nov 26 1870, The Sligo Champion mtg of the Harbour Board frugal

Mr. Middleton’s Bill

Mayor—Here is an account from Mr. Middleton for £250. It was ordered that piles should be put down in front of the quay. Some of them were put down, and some of them are lying useless on the quay.

Mr. Petrie asked Mr. Simm to look over the account, as he (Mr. Simm) knew something about pitch and oakum. The account contained as much of these articles as would do the British navy (laughter).

The Secretary said the account was up to the time that the harbour accounts were audited. The items were brought over by the auditors as a balance due to Mr. Middleton

Mr. Petrie—That will not make the waste a bit the less.

The Secretary said the harbour master would not have given an order for any of the articles if it was not required, and there was no overcharge in the account.

Mr. Petrie—What I mean to say is that there have been too much got.

Chairman—All these things are vouched for, and there has been nothing got that has not been passed by this board. There is a requisition sent in here and signed by the board before the goods are got.

Mr. Petrie—I never was aware of that before. I did not know it until this minute.

Mr. Simm—If these are contract prices and you got the articles there can be no disputing the account.

Mr. Petrie—Oh, I don’t dispute it.

Chairman—Some time ago, Captain Barret got such materials as he considered necessary. It was then ordered that there should a requisition book got to be signed by the board for such things as were required.

Mr. Petrie—I, for one, never heard of it.

Chairman—I think myself that all these things are far better managed by a committee than by the general body. It is exceedingly cumbrous to have these things before the board, and a great many members of the board knew nothing about them.

Mr. Petrie—What are our expenses to-day, Mr. Monds?

Mr. Monds (Secretary)– £400.

Mr. Petrie—The current expenses of the harbour?

Secretary—Last week the expenses were £19 6s 2 ½ d, and this week they are £23 1s 11d.

I’m looking at my great-great grandfather’s contributions to the Harbour Board meeting, and thinking again that he is a forthright and frugal man. ‘Frugality’ is often touted to be an attribute of the Scottish, and I think we can see that in action here.  He saw wasteful extravagance, and challenged it.

The foregoing articles should give you some idea of his level of involvement in the fishery, and in municipal matters.  (I have more evidence, if you need it!)

But he was also involved with farming, land reclamation and real estate. I am amazed at how many things occupied his attention. He was not just an entrepreneur, but an innovator—developing better ways of doing things.

This write-up is from John C. McTernan’s A Sligo Miscellany [Avena Publications, Sligo, 2000, p. 351]:

“Petrie, William (c. 1814-1884), entrepreneur and ‘Scotch Agriculturalist’, a native of Perthshire, settled in Sligo in the immediate aftermath of the Famine. A man of great natural ability and boundless energy, he prospered at everything he took into hands and engaged himself in many branches of business, including the ownership of trading vessels and the builder of a number of houses in Wine Street together offices and stores. In 1851 he leased the Sligo salmon fishery from Captain Martin and developed it into a viable commercial undertaking.

Once described as a ‘Scotch Agriculturalist’, he acquired a lease of Townafortis farm at Carraroe and laid out and successfully cultivated the rough pasture in accordance with the principles of high Scotch farming. He subsequently leased 120 acres of ‘slab-land’ at the 8th milestone at Beltra, reclaimed, drained and sub-soiled it before selling, at a considerable profit, to Captain Olpherts. He later took a lease of Colonel Gore’s lands at Rosserk, Ballina, which he also successfully reclaimed. Other farms and fisheries in both Sligo and Mayo, including the Moy Fishery, came into his possession, and these he successfully and profitably managed and in the process amassed a large fortune.

Despite his many and varied commercial undertakings, he found time to engage in public affairs and sat on both the Town Council and the Harbour Board. He died suddenly at Rosserk in September, 1884, and his remains were taken back for burial in Sligo cemetery.”

I believe they’ve gotten his birth year wrong; it should be 1819.

Wine Street was a main commercial street, perhaps THE main commercial street in Sligo at the time.

The following is a section of Griffiths Valuation that shows a land lease by William Petrie.  The major landowners were the wealthy, established people, often with aristocratic connections; everyone else leased the land from them. I think that this was fairly standard in Scotland and Ireland…and maybe England as well. This made the ‘clearances’ of Scotland’s highlands possible. The people working the land did not own it, and could be evicted at will by the wealthy landowners.

Griffith’s Valuation
The primary valuation of Ireland or Griffith’s Valuation – carried out between 1848 and 1864 to determine liability to pay the Poor rate (for the support of the poor and destitute within each Poor Law Union) – provides detailed information on where people lived in mid-nineteenth century Ireland and the property they possessed. [https://www.nli.ie/en/griffiths-valuation.aspx]

This is the property reference for the Petrie’s Tonafortes house pictured earlier, which we can see included 66 acres–far larger than the other properties here listed…

4.99 Griffiths, Tonafortes house

There were too many listings of William Petrie’s land and real estate holdings to show here. Let’s just say that he was a busy, busy man. Quite a few of his land holdings were for agricultural purposes, although some may be associated with the fishery.

In any event, my great-great grandfather worked hard to establish himself in Ireland after emigrating there from Scotland, and after a few years was no longer the renegade Scottish trespasser he was once considered. Although he might initially have interfered with the enjoyment of sport fishing by the upper-class Irish in the area–and perhaps they tried, unsuccessfully, to oust him–by the late 1860’s, he is sitting on various municipal boards and committees, elbow-to-elbow with those same people.

And on the home front, by 1861 his and Elizabeth’s family is complete with the birth of Jessie, their 10th and last child.

William’s mother, Jane (née Thomson or Thompson) Petrie died the previous year, in 1860. His father, Peter, had died in Scotland in 1844, and was buried in Creich churchyard in Fife. Jane was buried in Killanley graveyard, near Ballina, Ireland.

William’s sister, Margaret Dow (three years younger than William), died in 1863, at age 42. Her youngest child would have been four years old at the time of his mother’s death. William’s other sister, Christian (Christina) Bruce, seven years younger than William, died in 1869, at age 43. Her youngest child would have been five years old at the time of her death. I don’t have a cause of death for either Margaret or Christian.

So sad that their children were left without a mother at such a young age. What was the cause, we wonder? Given their nieces’ bad luck with childbirth, the thought occurs that they might have had a child late in their child-bearing years, and didn’t survive. After all, the two sisters would have had children of four years old (Margaret) and five years old (Christian/Christina) at the time of their deaths, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

William’s brother, Alexander, is alive and well in the 1860’s and 1870’s, as is his wife, Margaret Lyell. Alexander would turn out to be the longest-lived of the entire family, dying at around 97 years of age, in 1921.

The mysterious Elizabeth, youngest of William’s siblings, whose existence I cannot verify (I have nothing on her, whatsoever, except other family genealogists’ mention of her) I cannot account for. My inclination is to leave her off the record, since no one seems to have any backup information. However…there are indications of an important ‘Elizabeth’ in the family. William’s sister Margaret named a daughter ‘Elizabeth’. His sister Christian named her three daughters ‘Jane’ (for her mother), ‘Margaret’ for her older sister, and ‘Eliza Jane’–also for the mysterious younger sister, Elizabeth? Perhaps it’s just ‘one of those things’ that I can find no record of her. Elizabeth was supposedly born in 1827, so would have been age 14 at the time of the 1841 Scottish census. Since her sister Christian was born just the year before, and WAS recorded in the census as living at home with her parents in 1841, one has to think that Elizabeth should also have been there. But the census-taker gives no evidence of that.

While William’s brother, Alexander (of Carrowcarden), lived to age 97, that long life included some tremendous highs and lows.

Alexander’s son, Charles, (my great-grandfather Alexander’s first cousin) went to live in Liverpool. I believe he was to act as the family’s fishery agent in England, and he became established to the extent that he became Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1901. He was knighted shortly thereafter.

My great-grandfather Alexander also went forth to establish a branch of the Petrie fishery, but he went to North America–Bay of Chaleur, and then Newfoundland, rather than Liverpool. There were no ‘Lord Mayor’ titles nor knighthoods on offer in North America, or my great-grandfather Alexander would have been in line for something, I think–he being a personable man.

The following information on the Petrie baronetcy is taken from Wikipedia:

The Petrie Baronetcy, of Carrowcarden, Castleconnor, in the Barony of Tireragh in the County of Sligo, is a title in the Baronetage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 20 June 1918 for Sir Charles Petrie, Lord Mayor of Liverpool from 1901 to 1902. The third Baronet was a well-known historian. The fifth Baronet is a prominent diplomat and served as British Ambassador to Belgium from 1985 to 1989.
Petrie baronets, of Carrowcarden (1918)
• Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Baronet (1853–1920)
• Sir Edward Lindsay Haddon Petrie, 2nd Baronet (1881–1927)
• Sir Charles Alexander Petrie, 3rd Baronet (1895–1977)
• Sir (Charles) Richard Borthwick Petrie, 4th Baronet (1921–1988)
• Sir Peter Charles Petrie, 5th Baronet (born 1932)

This section comes from thepeerage.com:

Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Baronet (1853 – 9 July 1920) was a Scottish businessman and local politician, Lord Mayor of Liverpool in 1901–2.
• Petrie was born near Newburgh, Fife, the son of Alexander Petrie of Carrowcarden, and went into the family fishery business; from 1855 his father was based in Sligo, Ireland, with a fishery on the River Moy, which Petrie joined after education at Wesley College, Dublin. In 1876 he set up on his own in Manchester, subsequently moving to Liverpool.
• Petrie had salmon fisheries in Scotland and Ireland, and oyster fisheries in Ireland, at Fleetwood, and in Essex. He was leader of the Liverpool Conservatives, knighted in 1903 after his term as Lord Mayor, and created a baronet in 1918. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire.

He held the office of Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Liverpool.
He held the office of Deputy Lieutenant (D.L.) of Lancashire.
He held the office of Alderman of Liverpool.
He held the office of Lord Mayor of Liverpool between 1901 and 1902.
He was invested as a Knight Bachelor in 1903.
He was a member of the West Lancashire Territorial Forces Association.
He was president of the Liverpool Constitutional Association.
He was created 1st Baronet Petrie, of Carrowcarden, Castleconnor, Tieragh, co. Sligo [U.K.] on 20 June 1918.

Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Baronet, died July 8, 1920. This is his obituary, from the July 9, 1920, edition of the Edinburgh Evening News:

5.2 obit Sir Charles Petrie, Sr.

I don’t know much about the Scottish fisheries on the Tay, or the oyster fisheries in Essex, but I do know that the father who out-lived him–my great-great uncle Alexander of Carrowcarden, who died eight months after him, on March 19, 1921–was not living in Fifeshire. He had been living in Ireland since the 1850’s…some seventy years.

Also, if the writer of this article is correct about Sir Charles’s grandfather and great-grandfather being owners of extensive salmon fisheries on the river Tay, he knows something I don’t!  (This is definitely wrong.)  Sir Charles’s grandfather (my great-great-great grandfather) was Peter Petrie, whose occupation on the 1841 Scottish census was “Agricultural Labourer.”  I don’t have confirmation of who Sir Charles’s great-grandfather was.   His grandfather Peter’s parentage is beyond my ability to discover at the moment, largely because of his “Foreign” birth (he was born outside of England, Scotland and Ireland).  I may be looking in the Caribbean for it, next.  It’s possible that Peter was the son of George Petrie, as reported, but George was not married to a Margaret MacDonald.  (George wasn’t married to anyone.)

It’s bad enough looking for a birth record for someone born around 1796 when you KNOW what country he was born in.  If you DON’T know that, it’s a monumental problem.

Where did the newspaper’s misinformation come from?  (I do realize that they don’t always need an excuse for publishing nonsense.)  It’s possible, however, that Sir Charles may have embellished his ancestry to maintain his position in society, where pedigree is important.  A grandfather who was an agricultural labourer at a collective farming operation (Ballinbreich) on the shores of the Tay would not impress the aristocrats with whom Sir Charles associated.

The following is a photo from The Liverpool Echo newspaper of 1917.  Sir Charles is pictured at centre (he was knighted by this time, but didn’t become a baronet until the following year), and the others in the photo are:  Lady Derby, Lady Victoria Primrose, Lady Sybil Cadogan, Sir A. Salvidge, Major Oliver Stanley (behind Sir Charles):

PHOTO of Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Bt, June 28, 1917, The Liverpool Echo

This (below) was from the July 9, 1920, edition of the Dundee Courier of Angus, Scotland…

… DEATH OF PROMINENT SCOT. A prominent Scotsman died yesterday at Liverpool in the person of Sir Charles Petrie, Bart., ex Lord Mayor of Liverpool and Deputy-Lieutenant Lancashire. Sir Charles who was 67, was born near Newburgh, Fife. His father, grandfather …

It’s a bit of a stretch to call Sir Charles a ‘prominent Scot’ when he was born in Scotland in 1852 or 1853, and went to live in Ireland as a toddler. He lived in England for most of his life.  But perhaps ‘once a Scot always a Scot’?

And speaking of obituaries, I wanted to see what else was printed about Sir Charles, 1st baronet, in the newspapers. He was given mention in not only the Scottish and English papers, but also the Irish. An obituary in the Weekly Freeman’s Journal of Ireland, July 17, 1920, is below.

5.3 obit Sir Charles Petrie Sr. Weekly Freeman's Journal, Irish, July 17 1920

There was no heading to this blurb, it just ran together with some other things, and I think it’s safe to say that this writer had a rather narrow focus and pronounced partisan interests. Sir Charles worked in the municipal government of a major city and commercial centre in England, and his job was to serve that community–not “the claims of the majority of the Irish people.” Granted that there was a large influx of immigrants from Ireland to Liverpool, especially during the mid-19th century (potato-famine times), but I don’t think this writer is talking about that. He’s talking about ‘the majority of the Irish people’ and that was not Sir Charles Petrie’s focus, understandably.

Then there were a couple of obituaries in England that were of note (strangely, I can’t find anything for Liverpool). These are quite striking for the way the two different newspapers handled the death notice. The first one was factual and respectful, and the second was, well…not.

Here’s the first (factual and respectful), from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer of July 9, 1920..

5.4 obit Sir Charles Petrie Sr. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, July 9 1920

As you can see, the article gives an account of his public service and honours, and says, “he was a most able leader, whose labours yielded splendid results, and by the death of Sir Charles, Liverpool has lost one of her most honoured and valued citizens.”

Very nice…and very respectful.

The one below was written up in the gossip column of the Leeds Mercury, July 10, 1920, edition, by a rather snide columnist by the name of Paul Pry. Maybe that was a ‘nom de plume’ since ‘Pry’ is a little too apt for a gossip columnist.  A transcription is below…

5.5 Sir Charles Petrie Sr. obit, Leeds Mercury, Paul Pry, July 10, 1920

Sir Charles Petrie, Fishmonger,
The death of Sir Charles Petrie, a former Lord Mayor of Liverpool, removed a noteworthy titled shopkeeper from the list. Sir Charles was a fishmonger, and for many years had large salmon fisheries in Scotland and Ireland, as well as extensive oyster beds.

I had to chuckle at that. Sir Charles Petrie, Shopkeeper? Fishmonger? Well, I guess that’s what happens when the editor of a newspaper assigns the obituary notices to a Gossipmonger.

Sir Charles’s second son, the third baronet (also “Sir Charles”), was a historian, and the writer of many books.

I found this little exercise in misinformation on the internet. It concerns Sir Charles Petrie’s, (the historian’s), background and career…

As a consequence of this background, Petrie, while he did go to Oxford, was separated from most of his fellow Oxford students by his creed and his city of origin. This separation marked his whole life. For all his conviviality of temperament, he had what was very much a Latin outlook, a European outlook, retaining little patience for English parochialism. It was not at all that he wore his Catholicism on his sleeve. Indeed he seldom discussed religion overtly in any context. (When he helped establish the Military History Society of Ireland, he insisted on the complete avoidance of sectarian disputes; to this end, he successfully offered society membership to Lord Rathcavan — Protestant Speaker of the Ulster Parliament at the time — and De Valera.) Nevertheless Petrie’s Catholicism did give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment which has produced most recent British scholars.

I won’t tell you what website I got that from, to save the writer some embarrassment.

Oh, what the heck, they’re asking for it.  It comes from:  http://www.nationalobserver.net/2010/83_5_petrie_stove.htm, and it was repeated on the website http://teaattrianon.blogspot.ca/search?q=petrie.

Doesn’t matter who reported it first, they’ve both gotten it wrong.  But in fact, I’m going to say that the ‘Tea at Trianon’ site is more wrong than the other one, and for this reason…THEY appear to have lifted their text verbatim from the other guy’s site, without giving him/her credit (although he/she did not deserve credit).

How can “Petrie’s Catholicism…give him a habit of mind which he would not have harboured if he had sprung from the agnostic or atheist upper-middle-class environment…” when he was Presbyterian? His autobiography, Chapters of Life, talks about his attendance at Sefton Park Presbyterian church “every Sunday morning.” It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he might have converted, but I think he would have remarked on that in this part of his autobiography, had it been so.

Sir Charles’s father was my great-grandfather’s first cousin. The family religion was Presbyterian. That is a fact.

So there’s an example of one site getting it wrong and infecting another site…who probably infects another…and so on, and so on…

Leaving my ‘pet peeve’ behind for the moment, Sir Charles (again, he was a historian) claims for us a connection to George Petrie, famous antiquarian, as a ‘collateral’ relative.

“A collateral ancestor of note was another George Petrie, the famous Irish archaeologist, who is known to this day for his work on the Round Towers of Ireland.  His father, James, was a portrait painter, who originally came from Aberdeen, but settled in Dublin about 1780…”  Chapters of Life, p. 13

I wish I could see Sir Charles’s evidence for that, because I would love to welcome this connection without reservation. However, given some of Sir Charles’s other claims, and absent of supporting evidence (not for want of looking, I assure you), I just can’t.

We’ll do a quick recap…Sir Charles Petrie, 1st Baronet, and former mayor of Liverpool, son of Alexander Petrie of Carrowcarden (my great-great uncle, brother to my great-great grandfather, William Petrie of Rosserk), was the father of Sir Charles Petrie, historian, who wrote the book, Chapters of Life, upon which a great deal of our family genealogy was based.

More on that later.

Here’s Sir Charles’s description of his grandfather, Alexander Petrie of Carrowcarden (b. 1823, d. 1921):

“…An elder of the Presbyterian Church, a strong Radical, and a supporter of Home Rule, he was a man who did not know what compromise meant, but he was universally respected, and he is still remembered in Ballina.


At his house, Carrowcarden, now largely pulled down, the customs of an earlier day always obtained.  One rose at six, and breakfasted very substantially at seven:  there were light refreshments between twelve and one, but they amounted to no more than sherry and biscuits, and the pangs of hunger had to be repressed until five when there was a truly gargantuan repast which centred round, if the season was right, a salmon which had been boiled whole.  When the gentlemen joined the ladies later in the evening, tea was served and, after a last look round outside to see that everything was all right, one retired to bed at nine.  Although my grandfather was advanced in his opinions he was conservative in his habits:  smoking indoors he would not tolerate, there was no lighting save lamps, and the closets were of the earth variety.  He was wonderfully active until almost the end of his life, as is attested by the fact that he drank a whole bottle of whiskey to his own cheek in the Moy Hotel, Ballina, on his ninetieth birthday.”  Chapters of Life, p. 14

I said, earlier, that Alexander of Carrowcarden (my great-great uncle) had a long life with significant highs and lows. He must have been proud of the success of his son, Charles, in Liverpool. The year 1903, when son Charles was knighted, must have been a banner year; as was 1918, when Charles became a baronet.

1886, on the other hand, was possibly the worst year of Alexander’s life.

Alexander’s wife, Margaret Lyell, died on March 18, 1886, at age 65. As bad as that loss was, there was pure tragedy yet to come. On Saturday, July 17, 1886, Alexander’s 25-year-old son (also named Alexander), and his 28-year-old daughter, Helen (called ‘Ellie’) were drowned in an accident when they were out on a pleasure excursion with friends.

I believe this first article is from The Ballina Journal of July 19, 1886.

5.6 Dreadful Calamity, Boating Accident-heading.jpg

Dreadful Calamity

On Saturday the most painful and heart-rending accident which ever occurred in this locality took place on the Moy, at Bartra, resulting in the loss of five lives. The victims were all young people, and sad to say, three of those lost belonged to one family—two sisters and a brother—and a sister and brother from the esteemed family of Mr. Alexander Petrie of Carricarden, Enniscrone. The seven persons left Ballina in a small pleasure boat for the bathing place, Moyne Abbey, but the tide had receded, and they were obliged to change their course and cross the Moy Bar, which is most dangerous. In doing so the heavy sea broke over the frail boat and upset her about 400 yards from the island of Bartra, in the estuary of the River Moy. Slight southerly wind prevailed, and the bar was unusually broken. Two of the occupants sunk immediately, but the others held on to the upturned boat for some time. Only two reached the shore—Mr. W. W. Wilson and Miss Darbyshire, the latter of whom was in a very critical condition. The occupants of the boat were—Wm. W. Wilson, aged 26; his sisters Maggie and Jessie, aged 23 and 20; and his brother, aged 15; Alexander Petrie, aged 25; and his sister Ellie, aged 28; and a young English lady, Miss Darbyshire.

The inquest was held on yesterday, and the following evidence by Mr. W. W. Wilson discloses exactly how the accident occurred. Attempting to cross the Moy Bar in a frail boat, 18 feet long, with seven persons, four of whom were ladies, was an extremely rash undertaking, but the beloved & unfortunate victims were all young and inexperienced, and were induced by the calmness and beauty of the weather to attempt the perilous passage—a feat at which the most experienced boatmen in the Bay hesitates.

The Coroner, R. Mostyn, Esq., opened the inquests at 1 o’clock.

The following jury was sworn:–Wm. Craven, (foreman) John Craven, Pat Mannion, John Ryan, Wm. Ryan, Cormick Fox, Gardiner A. Devany, John T. Armstrong, Edward Walshe, Thompson McEwen, Alexander Reid, James Ryan.

The Coroner said the first duty they had to perform was to view the bodies of the deceased.

When the Jury re-assembled the Coroner said—Gentlemen, I need scarcely remind you of the solemnity of the occasion, or of the sad duty on which we are assembled here to-day. Five young persons in the spring time of life, with hope and energy, and every prospect that would make life dear to them, have lost their lives in what I must say is the saddest, and most unfortunate occurrence, that ever in my long experience of public life, I heard of or had the unpleasant duty to preside at. We are here to investigate the cause of their deaths, which, I am sure, after hearing the evidence of the survivor, you will have no difficulty in arriving at a verdict. He desired to convey on his own, and on the Jury’s behalf, the expression of their deep sympathy to the afflicted friends of the deceased persons, and hoped that they were better provided for as God does everything for his own wise and inscrutable purposes.

The recital of the evidence of Mr. W. W. Wilson, particularly where he describes where his sister placed her arms round his neck was very sad, and those present were visibly affected.

Mr. Geo Petrie was the first witness examined, he having found the body of Miss Wilson—He deposed that on Saturday last he heard of the accident, and went to Bartra Island with others; was there informed that five individuals had been drowned, namely: Miss Margaret Wilson, Jessie Wilson, Miss Ellie Petrie, Alexander Petrie, and John Wilson, this was almost six o’clock: Mrs. Captain Monds kindly came on the shore and pointed out where the accident occurred, and with Capt. Monds, gave every assistance possible, although rain was falling at the time.

Coroner—What all good Christians would do.
Witness—We found the boat overturned close to the shore; about two miles farther down we found the body of Miss M. Wilson, which I fully identified, having known her before; we found no other body there that evening, but got hats &c, belonging to the occupants of the boat.

Sergeant Anderson explained that he had got the bodies to the mainland, as it would be very difficult to get a jury to the island.

Mr. William Wilson was next sworn. Was one of the seven occupants of the boat on the occasion; and brother to deceased Margaret Wilson, 23; left Ballina with Alex Petrie, my two sisters, Margaret and Jessie, brother Jack, Miss Darbyshire; were going to spend day at Moyne and Killala; we were to have picked up Miss Ellie Petrie at Paddy Brown’s, Scurmore, at five minutes past ten, but she was a few minutes late; we then saw her waving her handkerchief; and put in at the sand hills; we all got in here but the shifting sand made the girls wish to get back to the boat; Alex Petrie and I had off our boots; and we partly carried Miss Darbyshire and my sister Margaret to the boat, and they took off their boots and stockings, and Alex Petrie and I went up on the sand hills to call the others to the boat; they had a good way to come and we left the ladies across on Bartra and came back for Miss Petrie; Alex went to meet Ellie, and carried her over the soft place; all then crossed to Bartra, afterwards entered the boat to proceed to our destination, Moyne Abbey; I did not know the locality before but knew we were to cross the bar; we were to have crossed the flats, only that we were late for the tide; we talked of the risk of crossing the bar; the day was very fine, so much so that we could not sail, and had to pull; we did not think of danger.

I saw one line of breakers ahead, but the tide was sweeping us on fast; we crossed one breaker without shipping any water, and we were then in a comparatively good sea; we were in a very light boat, about 18 feet long, and had only light oars; suddenly the sea seemed to rise in, rolled on the crest; my brother and I were at the oars, and Mr. Petrie steering; my sister Margaret sat at the bow, and the three other ladies at the stern; on mounting the first breaker, we took in a little water, and Mr. Petrie said pull harder; we could not then possibly return; we did not even then apprehend much danger, and even the girls were not frightened; at the second wave the boat took in more water, and a third nearly filled the boat; could not do much with my oar after the third, and the boat then turned over to the left, letting us all easily into the water, no one moved until were thrown out; the first position the boat took was keel up, and [??] of us caught hold of the boat’s overlapping landings; the seas were dreadful, and we were swept from the boat; could not tell the depth, and I found myself some distance from the boat, and my sister Maggie had her arm round my neck, with some one else whom I thought to be my sister Jessie. [Here the witness was much moved.]

We got to the boat, and I put my sister Maggie on to the boat again. Alick Petrie, Miss Darbyshire, Maggie and I were on the boat together latest; sometimes I was swept off and got on again; and missed all the others; thinking all were gone; the last I saw was my sister Maggie holding on to the mast, which was unshipped, and floating about 30 yards from the boat; later on I was surprised to see Miss Darbyshire with a hold on the boat; she spoke about the others, and I told her never to mind them; she said she could not longer hold on; I told her I felt bottom, and very shortly I had hold of the boat; I was at the stern and she was at the bow; I with the assistance of the incoming wave got the boat to shore and we landed on Bartra; over 100 breakers must have passed over us while in the water.

Coroner—It was impossible for any creature to live there.
Witness—I then sent Miss Darbyshire to Captain Kirkwood’s house, and soon four of his men came to the shore, where I remained to see if any of the others would turn up; we searched along the shore, and when I came back to where the boat was I met Captains Kirkwood and Monds; after a short talk, Captain Kirkwood inquired when the accident happened, I told him half past eleven, as my watch stopped at that time; he said it was then ten minutes to one.
Coroner—What a long time you must have struggled in the water.
Witness—The two watches found on the deceased also stopped at the same hour; after the boat first overturned I do not remember seeing my brother Jack or Ellie Petrie.
Matthew Goodwin, of Rosserk, gave evidence that he with others on yesterday found Mr. Alix Petrie’s body, whom he had known in life; his remains were carried in by a wave about three or four o’clock; he had all clothes on except boots and stockings.
Coroner—Have you anything to say

Mr. P. L. Petrie said he had only to thank on behalf of his afflicted family all the kind and sympathetic persons who had done everything they could to assist in the recovery of the bodies, and gave every other help required. He trusted that God would reward them, and also give him and his family strength to bear up against this terrible affliction.
Mr. Wilson, senr, also joined his expressions of sincere thanks.
Captain Monds, his lady, and Captain Kirkwood were especially mentioned.
After a few moments the jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and also expressed great sympathy with the afflicted friends of the deceased.

There’s a second newspaper account, which adds a few things…

The Freeman’s Journal, July 20, 1886
The Shocking Boating Accident in Killala Bay
(Telegram from our Correspondent)
Ballina, Monday.

The shocking accident which occurred in Killala Bay on Saturday was the subject of a coroner’s inquiry to-day. Two of the bodies out of five have only been found. Coroner Mostyn and a jury from Ballina heard the facts as to the finding of the bodies, &c. The principal evidence was given by Mr. William W. Wilson, one of the two who escaped, and whose evidence, as follows, records the entire sad story:–

I was one of the seven occupants of the boat on the occasion. I am brother to the deceased, Margaret Wilson, aged 23.

I left Ballina with Alex Petrie, my two sisters, Margaret and Jessie, brother Jack, and Miss Darbyshire, and were going to spend the day at Moyne Abbey. We were to have crossed the flats only that we were too late for the tide; we talked of the risk of crossing the bar. The day was very fine, so much so that we could not sail, and had to pull. We did not think of danger. I saw one line of breakers ahead, but the tide was sweeping us on fast. We crossed one breaker without shipping any water, and we were then in a comparatively good sea. We were in a very light boat, about eighteen feet long, and had only light oars.

Suddenly the sea seemed to rise on rollers, with broken waters on the crest. My brother and I were at the oars, and Mr. Petrie steering. My sister Margaret sat at the bow and the three other ladies at the stern. On mounting the first breaker we took in a little water, and Mr. Petrie said—“Pull harder.” We could not then possibly return. We did not even then apprehend much danger, and even the girls were not frightened. At the second wave the boat took in more water, and a third nearly filled the boat. I could not do much with my oar after the third and the boat then turned over to the left, letting us all easily into the water. No one moved until we were thrown out.

The first position the boat took was keel up, and most of us caught hold of the boat’s overlapping landings; the seas were dreadful, and we were swept from the boat. I could not tell the depth, I found myself some distance from the boat, and my sister Maggie had her arm round my neck, with some one else whom I thought to be my sister Jessie. (Here the witness was much moved.) We got to the boat, and I put my sister Maggie on to the boat again. Alick Petrie, Miss Darbyshire, Maggie, and I were on the boat together latest. Sometimes I was swept off and got on again, and missed all the others, thinking all were gone.

The last I saw was my sister Maggie holding on to the mast, which was unshipped, and floating about thirty yards from the boat. She was swept away with the next breaker, and I also did not see her again. When I next came to the surface saw Miss Darbyshire clinging to the boat; swam towards her and got the boat on shore; she was then almost exhausted or near drowned, waiting for hours on the shore, but the others did not appear again. Help then arrived, and the first body was found six hours after the accident. The second was found on Sunday evening. None of the others have been recovered.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental drowning, expressing much sympathy with the relatives of the deceased.

The bodies were laid out in a country house by the sea side, and poor young Petrie, who was a splendid type of man aged 25, was terribly marked, evidently from collision with the boat before death, while striving to save his sister and the other young ladies. All the five drowned were of Scotch families, settled in this district.

This was the intended destination of the young people on that terrible day in 1886…

5.7 Moyne AbbeyMoyne Abbey, attribution below
By Mark Wheaver – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4661459

“Moyne Abbey is one of the most impressive ecclesiastical ruins in Mayo and a National Monument.  It was founded before the year 1455 by the Burke family as a Franciscan friary, and consecrated in 1462. It is located north of Ballina on the west side of Killala Bay. Like its neighbour, Rosserk Friary, it was burnt by Sir Richard Bingham, Elizabeth I of England’s governor of Connacht, in 1590 in reformationist zeal.” [Wikipedia]

This photo shows a portion of Bartra (or ‘Bartragh’) Island. I notice that in the tourist information for some of the coastal towns people are warned against swimming out past certain markers, owing to strong currents, especially around Bartra Island.

5.8 Bartra Island

“Bartragh Island, lies across the mouth of Killala Bay into which the Moy estuary flows. It is the only natural barrier island in Ireland and is approximately 4.5 kilometres long. The island is separated from the mainland by wide expanses of intertidal sand flats (0.5-1 km wide). The island may be reached on foot near the eastern shore on some low tides, although this may only be the case on or near spring tides. In general it is advisable to travel to the island via boat, although there is no regular service available.” [National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Appendix VIII – Bartragh Island site report and habitat map from the CMP (Ryle et al. 2009)]

William Petrie Sr. (of Rosserk), my great-great-grandfather, was not there to witness these heartbreaking events, as he had died two years previously (in 1884). He never knew of the accident that killed his nephew, Alexander, and niece, Ellie (Helen).

I was in Ireland a few years ago, and took some photographs of the farmhouse and outbuildings of William Petrie Sr.’s farmhouse in Rosserk (sometimes spelled ‘Rossirk’).

5 William of Rosserk's farmhouse

The residence is a very plain, single-storied farmhouse that was built by my great-great grandfather, probably in the 1850’s. This would likely have been where he died. I wish we could have gone inside, but it’s been derelict for some time, and we were told that it would be dangerous in the interior, even had we been granted entry.  There were quite a number of farm outbuildings in the complex.

The Petrie house at Tonafortes (there are many spellings for that word!), Carraroe, pictured earlier was considerably more ostentatious than this, but I believe that this farmhouse structure was built purely for function, as part of an agricultural operation.  It may be that the Tonafortes, Carraroe, house was (or became) William’s brother Alexander’s main residence, although the lease for Tonafortes was in William’s name, according to Griffiths Valuation.  I don’t have a clear picture of who might have been in residence there, and when, although a hint comes by way of the family Bible, which recorded William’s daughter Jeanie’s death…

Petrie Family Bible page0003-crop, JEANIE

“Jeanie…Mrs. Peter Robertson Died at Towneyfortis, the residence of her father, on Wednesday, 29th July, 1868, at half past four o’clock in the afternoon, also her infant baby Elizabeth Robertson died on Thursday morning the 30th July, 1868, aged ten weeks. The mother aged 25 years.  past,”

And after the final words giving the mother’s age (25 years), the single word, “past,” and nothing further for that entry.  I believe that most family Bible entries for births (on the previous page) were recorded in great-great grandfather William’s hand, but the page that starts with daughter Anne’s early death, and goes to daughter Jeanie’s early death (both of them dying at their father’s home in Tonafortes) is written in another hand.

What did “past” mean?  “Past understanding?” or “Past all human tolerance of grief?”

The third daughter to die young was written in the family Bible on this same page, after her sister Jeanie’s death, and it consists solely of her name, “Elizabeth Dewar” and nothing more.  No date and no details.  Whoever started to enter her death in the family Bible, may have looked at Elizabeth’s sisters’ deaths recorded just above, and couldn’t manage to say anything further.   First of the three to die was Anne (age 27), second was Jeanie (age 25)–the third was Elizabeth, also age 25.

So Towneyfortis (a.k.a. Tonafortes) was my great-great-grandfather William Petrie’s residence in the years 1866 and 1868, at the times that his daughters and baby granddaughter died in that house.

Maybe he didn’t want to be there after that.  Maybe the little farmhouse looked like a kindlier place to be.  Or maybe the farmhouse was built after that, and not in the 1850’s as I originally thought.  It might not have accommodated a family with ten children comfortably, and perhaps was built when the children were moving out and starting their own lives.  I don’t know.

Also it seems that George and Thomas, born in 1855 and 1857, respectively, were each born in the Tonafortes house, so very likely the farmhouse was a later residence.

After the collapse of the fishery, when William was, I believe, predominantly farming, he would likely have resided in the house in Rosserk, and I base that on the fact that his obituary said that he died at Rosserk.  William’s obituary is at the bottom of this article.

Interesting that, with all that he did in his life…fishery owner and manager, ship owner, real-estate developer, municipal politician, etc., etc., his occupation on his death registration is simply, “farmer.”

My great-great grandfather William of Rosserk, his sons, William (Jr.), Alexander (my great-grandfather), Peter, and John did not have Alexander of Carrowcarden’s good luck with longevity, dying at ages 65, 53, 47, 58 and 29, respectively. The causes of death were heart disease (William Sr.), Bright’s disease (William Jr.), ‘stomach cancer’ (Alexander)–and I have no idea what happened to Peter and John.  William of Rosserk’s other sons were George and Thomas, and they lived to be ages 72 and 70, respectively.

As for the longevity of William of Rosserk’s other children, three of his four daughters: Anne (Petrie) Thompson, Jeanie (Petrie) Robertson, and Elizabeth (Petrie) Dewar, died in their 20’s (as I mentioned above):  Anne at age 27; Jeanie at age 25; and Elizabeth also age 25.   The youngest daughter, Jessie (Petrie) Patterson, lived to be 82.  I’ll be talking about the girls later.

Returning to William Jr.’s letter (he was my great-uncle) to my great-grandmother Georgy yet again…

William said in his letter that his father, who had died ten years previously had left things in a bad way financially with a debt of £2200 owed to the bank. The value of that amount of money in 1881 would be roughly equivalent to £241,290.32 in 2015, which would be around $422,000 Canadian or $322,000 U.S. at present-day values, using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator. (Note that in 1826 the Irish pound was merged with the pound sterling.)

That’s a significant amount of debt.

However, it’s not completely beyond the realm of possibility, since the businesses he was engaged in were somewhat exposed to risk. In his farming operations, there would have been weather conditions to worry about. And any fishery in those days was subject to the availability of its product; some years the fishing was better than others. Also, a ship owner whose vessels crossed the ocean was exposed to the risk of losing a ship due to weather and storm. A safe return to port was never guaranteed. Then there were market conditions, competition, reliability of suppliers of equipment, availability of manpower, and so forth—all the ‘usual’ business risks, on top of that.

We’ll examine my great-great grandfather William of Rosserk from the family side now.

He was born in 1819, the eldest child of Peter Petrie (ca. 1796-1844) and Jane Thomson or Thompson (ca. 1796-1860).

William had four siblings: Margaret, (b. 1821, d. 1863, married George Dow), Alexander (b. 1823, d. 1920, married Margaret Lyell), Christian/Christina (b. 1826, d. 1869, married Thomas Bruce), and Elizabeth (b. 1827?—unverified—no record of birth, death or marriage that I can find).

I’m hoping this link will take you to a spreadsheet that shows the family connections I’ll be discussing.  I’ve called it, ‘from Peter and Jane’ because the earlier generations are not verified, so I’ve deleted them for the moment.

FAMILY TREE NEWEST, from Peter and Jane

You’ll see in the family tree where I’ve indicated that there’s some question about the birthdates of parents Peter Petrie and Jane Thompson, because the Scottish census of 1841 lists both their ages as 40. The census-takers were apparently instructed to round-down ages to the nearest 5-year mark, which they did, but not consistently.

I have another source that says Peter was born in 1790, and his wife Jane in 1791, but I think that those years were appropriated to support a family tree based on some misinformation from Sir Charles Petrie’s autobiography, Chapters of Life, in which he said that Peter’s parents were George Petrie (b. 1748) and Margaret MacDonald (b. 1750).

Margaret MacDonald having a son in 1801, or even 1796, when she would have been between 46 and 51 years old would stretch the boundaries of belief (perhaps not in today’s world, but certainly for those times)–so Peter’s birth year seems to have been back-dated to 1790 to support Sir Charles’s contention that a Margaret MacDonald born in 1750 was Peter’s mother.

I don’t know whether Sir Charles genuinely believed that George was Peter’s father, or whether George was a convenience for supporting the census information that Peter was foreign-born. George was a soldier in the army, the 21st Regiment of Foot (North British Fusiliers) in his early military career, and the 72nd and 77th Regiments in the latter part. During his military career, he was stationed in Canada, the U.S. (during the American War of Independence), India, Barbados, Ceylon, etc.

Peter’s birthplace in the 1841 Scottish census is clearly noted to be “Foreign”—that is to say, he was NOT born in Scotland, England, or Ireland. If we could say, truthfully, that his father was George, the fact that George had been posted to various places in the world would easily explain the foreign birth.

Sir Charles says that Peter’s mother was Margaret MacDonald, daughter of James MacDonald, younger brother of Aeneas MacDonald–one of the Seven Men of Moidart who accompanied Bonnie Prince Charlie from France in his bid to regain the throne from the Hanoverians. Margaret MacDonald’s father supposedly went to Canada (Quebec) after the uprising of 1745 and the Battle of Culloden in 1746, since highlanders were being persecuted and driven out by royalist supporters.

With that information, Canada was looking like a promising locale for Peter’s birth, especially since George Petrie was captured, along with the rest of General Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga, NY, in 1777. Burgoyne’s army was in Canada (Quebec, actually, since ‘Canada’ did not exist as we know it today) before marching to the U.S. to engage in battle with the Americans during their War of Independence. I believe that on their release from detention by the American forces, they—or some of them, at least—were sent back to Canada.

The army’s posting in Quebec, where Margaret MacDonald and her family supposedly lived, would explain George and Margaret’s meeting and marriage; and the regiment’s subsequent posting to Nova Scotia in 1790 would coincide with Peter’s original proposed birthdate, and his ‘foreign’ birth.

Unfortunately, while I was researching George Petrie’s military career in The London Gazette and charting his regiments’ postings (both regiments: the 21st Foot and the 72nd Foot), and reading about the history of those regiments, I came across George Petrie’s will.

I say, ‘unfortunately,’ but it didn’t feel that way at the time. It was an important find for me and I was delighted to pay the National British Archives the £3.50 fee for downloading the document. It felt a bit like Christmas. The writing in the will was a bit of a challenge, but I could see that there was mention of a bequest to a Miss Colvill, which confirmed what I had been told to this point in time…that George’s mother was Elizabeth Colville, daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross.

I persisted in winkling out all the information I could get from the will, but once I’d figured most of it out, I was left with the stunning realization that George did not know that he had a wife named Margaret and a child named Peter.

Title: Will of George Petrie, Lieutenant Colonel in the Army of Ceylon , East Indies
Order number: 1405639
Catalogue reference: PROB 11/1304/98
Price: £3.50
Reference: PROB 11/1304/98
Description: Will of George Petrie, Lieutenant Colonel in the Army of Ceylon , East Indies
Date: 14 March 1798
Held by: The National Archives, Kew

Legal status: Public Record(s)

6 Section George Petrie WILL

“I George Petrie Lieutenant Colonel in the army being of sound mind and judgement and considering the uncertainty of human life…”

You can see the fun I had deciphering this document’s information.  But I think I got what I need from it.

Up until that point in time I believed Sir Charles Petrie’s account that Margaret MacDonald was the wife of George Petrie.  With that in doubt, it was beginning to look like George was NOT my 4x great-grandfather, which means that Elizabeth, daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross, was not my 5x great-grandmother.

Our connection to the Colvilles would have connected us to Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, on BOTH sides of their family…Prince Charles’s side (through the Bowes-Lyons) and Princess Diana’s side (through our mutual descent, Diana’s and ours, from Patrick, 3rd Lord Drummond). It would also make me the 21x great-granddaughter of King Robert the Bruce, the 27x great-granddaughter of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the I-forget-how-many-times great-granddaughter of William the Conqueror, and I spent a great deal of time happily tracing connections through the peerage.

Then, with the discovery of George Petrie’s will, suddenly those connections were in doubt. If there is no connection to the Colvilles, there are no royal ancestors.

A great pity, since I was having terrific fun with all those aristocratic connections. My (former) 26x great-grandfather, King John (Lackland) was the monarch forced to sign the Magna Carta. He’ll be known primarily as the villain in the Robin Hood stories, owing to some of his unfortunate personal attributes, although modern scholarship views him as an able administrator in spite of that.

Oh well, villain or not, able administrator or not, he MAY be my 26x great-grandfather no longer. Unless I can prove a connection to Lieutenant Colonel George Petrie, I have no kings and queens for great-great-great-great-etc. grandparents.

Sir Charles’s account of our family history was treated by most of us as gospel—he WAS a professional historian, after all, having written over 60 books of history. And it was our family—his and mine—that he was talking about in his autobiography/memoir Chapters of Life, which was published in 1950.

Sir Charles’s photo is below.

6.5 Sir Charles Petrie, resized

How were any of us to know that his account would not be completely reliable? Mind you, in retrospect, there were signs.

Perhaps he invented the George-and-Margaret branch on our family tree because it supported not only Peter’s foreign birth, but a romantic Jacobite connection which Sir Charles may have found desirable for his own reasons.

My great-great-great grandfather Peter was definitely FOREIGN born.  The man purported to be his father (Lt. Colonel George Petrie) was stationed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  I’m estimating Peter’s year of birth to be ca 1796–the same year as George’s will, IN WHICH HE STATES THAT “HIS GIRL” MARY IS WITH CHILD TO HIM.  Is it possible that Peter is the illegitimate son of George and ‘his girl’ Mary?  Would the executors of George’s will have arranged for Peter to be returned to Scotland?  Perhaps given him into the care of the Colvilles?  It makes sense, and the year lines up, and the foreign birth is explained.  It also re-establishes our connection to the Colvilles.

Also, the fact that Peter raised his family in the vicinity of Dundee–where George Petrie’s mother, Elizabeth Colville, was likely born (her brother Alexander, the 7th Lord Colville of Culross was born there)–lends support to this.

It seems possible that “Margaret MacDonald” was invented by Sir Charles to cover-up for Peter’s illegitimacy.  That would make sense, too.

IF this is correct, then all my aristocratic connections would be restored.

I would then be able to tell my husband (again) that King Robert the Bruce’s 21x great-granddaughter (me) cannot be required to undertake tasks of a menial or domestic nature.  (Hurrah!)

What a funny thing it is when one has to prove that one’s 3x great-grandfather was the illegitimate son of a British Army officer and (possibly) his Sri Lankan housemaid in order to re-establish one’s blood kinship to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

And speaking of errors (not Sir Charles’s this time), below is a portion of a ‘Descendants Report’ starting from Robert Petrie and Elizabeth Colville, which I downloaded from the internet in 2009. (I suspect that Sir Charles’s book was the source, at least in part, for this.)

3. William PETRIE
William + Margaret => ?? + Alexander + Jessie + John + Peter + Thomas + William + George
Robert’s gGrandson,
b. at Roserk
m. Margaret MCDOW
William’s Parents: Peter PETRIE, Jane THOMPSON

The ‘William Petrie’ in the above record IS my great-great grandfather–for sure.

His parents WERE Peter Petrie and Jane Thompson. That is correct.

However, William did NOT marry his sister, Margaret. He married Elizabeth Williamson.

This is the registry record for William and Elizabeth’s marriage (in 1837):

7 William Petrie and Eliz Williamson marriage register

AND…his sister’s name was Margaret DOW, not ‘McDow.’ The marriage record of Margaret and George Dow is below:

Name George Dow
Spouse’s Name Margaret Pettrie

Event Date 04 Dec 1841
Event Place Dunbog,Fife,Scotland

AND…he was not born at ‘Roserk,’ (a.k.a. ‘Rosserk,’ a.k.a. ‘Rossirk’) which is in Ireland. He was born in Scotland in 1819, likely in the Parish of Flisk in Fife, where his siblings were born, and did not go to Ireland until 1851-ish to live at ‘Rosserk’ (which is the correct, or at least the modern-day spelling).

This map shows the location of the parish of Flisk in Scotland on the shores of the Firth of Tay in Fife…

8 MAP showing FLISK

Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11605596

The genealogy site which shows the misinformation about William has also omitted Ann (or ‘Anne’), who was the first child of William & Elizabeth, b. 1839. Their daughters Jane (‘Jeanie’) and Elizabeth are also missing from this record. William and Elizabeth had ten children.

I expect inaccuracies in internet information, but two ‘biggies’ in this record are that he married his sister and was born in Ireland. Those two would throw any genealogist off the trail. (And throw them off in other ways as well…married his SISTER?)

The thing is, this genealogy report starts with Robert Petrie and Elizabeth Colville, then goes to their son George and alleged wife Margaret (wrong–George was not married), and then goes to all the other wrong information about the rest of the family.

But now that information is on the internet, and some people will accept it for the truth without doing any research for themselves. Once it’s ‘out there’ it’s ‘out there’ and it will likely stay ‘out there’.

Let that be a warning to any genealogists reading this. If you don’t see it with your own eyes, don’t believe it; that is to say, go to the original record! Do not accept an internet genealogy report cobbled together from skewed facts and fantasy.

Anyhow…on we go…

The spelling of the surname ‘Petrie’ has a few variations in the registries…in the 1841 census, for example, the name is spelt ‘Pettrie.’ I’ve also seen ‘Petry’ and ‘Pettry,’ and an early version (17th century) ‘Patrie.’

I hesitate to introduce the following information, but I’ll include it just because we were told (again, Sir Charles Petrie is the source) that this person is our ancestor. Sir Charles tells us that he is a great-grandparent. Wrong again. He MAY be an ancestor of sorts, but he cannot be our great-grandparent.

Since we’ve all blindly accepted this connection for so many years (with good reason…a family historian with all sorts of accreditations told us), I feel that I need to present my research, for the benefit of other family members…

His name was Robert Patrie/Petrie and he started his political career as baillie of Aberdeen in the first half of the 17th century, and went on to be Provost of Aberdeen on three occasions in the mid-17th century, between 1664 and 1675. This is his signature…

8.3 Robert Patrie signature

From information taken from his ‘retour’ (Scottish legal document affirming the legitimate heir to his estate), we learn that his father was William, and that he had a brother James and a cousin Robert whose son James became his heir.

I can add, from other sources, that he also had a sister, Elizabeth, who married a Chalmers.

Robert Patrie/Petrie’s own son, William, must have died young for Robert Patrie to have left his estate to a nephew.  That tells me that there were no male descendants from Robert Patrie in a direct line.  If he’d had a grandson, he would have left his estate to him.  SO…no son and no grandson, and therefore, as PETRIES, we cannot be descended from him.

8.5 Abridgement of Petrie retour

I hired a Latin translator based in Scotland, and this is her translation:

(471) Apr. 24. 1688

James Petrie, eldest lawful son of Robert Petrie, merchant in Edinburgh, heir to Mr Robert Petrie of Portlethan, son of William Petrie, merchant in Aberdeen, brother of James Petrie, merchant there, brother of Robert Petrie, merchant in Edinburgh, father of the said James – brother son of his grandfather* – in a half salmon fishing called a rack and stells on the water of Dee, with ten salmon fish in each cavell of the said fishing called a rack and stells on the same water of Dee: – E. …. in feu: – tenements of land within the burgh of Aberdeen – E. 2 s[hillings] for every tenement xl. 152.

(See Kincardine)

*nephew of his grandfather; i.e., his cousin

Robert Patrie married Anna Forbes on May 1, 1660, and this is their marriage registry:

9 Marriage Record, Robert Patrie and Anna Forbes

Mr. Robert Patrie baillie and Anna
Forbes married the 1st day of May

The registry page heading gives the year (1660)…

10 Shows year of Robert and Anna's marriage

She, incidentally, was the daughter of Sir William Forbes of Craigievar castle.

11 Craigievar Castle

Craigievar Castle is a lovely pink structure…very Disney-esque. I had fun for a while, thinking that Sir William Forbes was my direct ancestor, and that this castle was an ancestral home. I even ordered a poster of the castle to hang on my wall. As it happens, Sir William Forbes is not my direct ancestor, but I will enjoy my poster, nonetheless.

Robert Petrie (Patrie) and Anna Forbes had at least one child, a son they called William. Below is the registration of his birth.

12 William son of Robert and Anna, birth registry

PATRIE 28 December (1662)
[Patrie: Maister Robert Patrie late baylie and Anna Forbes ane son called William. William Gray provost, Sir Robert Farquhar of Mounie, John Jaffray late provost….etc.]

The following is a partial list of Aberdeen’s provosts, amongst whom you will see some of the people listed in the birth registry for William (above). Robert Patrie/Petrie was a former baillie at the time of his son’s birth in 1662, and, as you’ll see from the list, he became provost for the first time in 1664, and served again in subsequent years.

• (1647–1648) Sir Patrick Leslie
• (1648–1649) Thomas Gray
• (1649–1650) Alexander Jaffray
• (1650–1651) Sir Robert Farquhar
• (1651–1652) Alexander Jaffray
• (1652–1655) George Morison
• (1655–1656) Thomas Gray
• (1656–1657) George Cullen
• (1657–1660) John Jaffray
• (1660–1662) Gilbert Gray
• (1662–1663) William Gray
• (1663–1664) Gilbert Gray
• (1664–1666) Robert Petrie
• (1666–1667) Gilbert Gray
• (1667–1671) Robert Petrie
• (1671–1674) Robert Forbes
• (1674–1675) Robert Petrie

What follows are explanations of the function of a ‘baillie’ and a ‘provost.’

A bailie or baillie is a civic officer in the local government of Scotland. The position arose in the burghs, where bailies formerly held a post similar to that of an alderman or magistrate (see bailiff). [Wikipedia]

The Lord Provost of Aberdeen is the convener of the Aberdeen City local authority in Scotland. They are elected by the city council and serve not only as the chair of that body, but as a figurehead for the entire city. [Wikipedia]

Here’s a bit of info about Robert Patrie of Portlethen from The History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick, and mind how you go…some of it is wrong…

“The next proprietor was Robert Patrie, who was Provost of Aberdeen on several occasions between 1664 and 1674. He received the honour of knighthood at the hands of Charles II, and married Anna, second daughter of Sir William Forbes, first Baronet of Craigyvar. He is said to have been the representative of the ancient family of Glenavon in Banffshire. […] Patrie’s daughter, Elizabeth, became the wife of Robert Farquhar of Mounie, who received the honour of knighthood at the hands of Charles II. in 1651, whilst his sister, Elizabeth, was married to James Chalmers, second son of William Chalmers, the first legally established minister at Boyndie after the Reformation.” [Henderson, John A., History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick. Aberdeen: D. Wylie & Son, 1890. pp.147-148]

An interesting write-up, but fraught with errors, unfortunately.

First, Robert Patrie (b. ca 1630) was not knighted.  As we see from the quote above, John Henderson says he was knighted by Charles II.  Sir Charles Petrie claims that Robert Patrie was knighted by James, Duke of York, who was Charles II’s brother, and who later became King James II.  I can find absolutely no evidence of it.

Then there’s a problem with “Patrie’s daughter, Elizabeth” being the wife of Robert Farquhar of Mounie. The record of Robert Patrie’s son’s birth was dated December 28, 1662. Sir Robert Farquhar’s daughter Elspeit was christened on November 2, 1624, and his son George on March 15, 1621. [Munro, Alexander M., Memorials of the Aldermen, Provosts and Lord Provosts of Aberdeen 1272-1895. Aberdeen: Printed for the Subscribers, “Free Press” Printing Works, 1897, p. 152]

Munro would have us believe that Robert Patrie’s DAUGHTER was having children as early as 1621, when her own parents didn’t marry until 1660…almost forty years later.

That same book (p. 151) says, “Provost Farquhar married Elizabeth Patrie, the widow of Thomas Buck of Grandholm, by whom he had issue three daughters…” On page 152, it says, “The Provost’s widow died at Aberdeen on the 23rd November, 1665, and was buried in the old Church of S. Nicholas three days later, while the Provost survived her only about five weeks, having died on the 1st day of January, 1666, aged about 80 years.”

I’m sorry to quibble, but if she predeceased him by five weeks, she was never his widow. And it’s safe to say that this Elizabeth Patrie was not the daughter of Robert Patrie of Portlethen, Provost of Aberdeen.

Robert Farquhar DID in fact marry an ‘Elizabeth Patrie,’ widow of Thomas Bucke.

Elizabeth’s marriage to Thomas Bucke took place on January 8, 1639…

13 Marriage of Elizabeth Patrie and Thomas Bucke

(Ano or Anno?) 1639 years
Thomas Bucke and Elspeit Patrie
Married the eighth day of January]

Hard work deciphering 17th century handwriting, but the record was identified by the archivist, so it can be interpreted.

So, that was Elizabeth Patrie’s first marriage.

Her second marriage, to Robert Farquhar was eight years later, on June 1, 1647…

14 Marriage Eliz Patrie and Robert Farquhar

Mr. Robert Farquhar of Mounie
Lord Provost and Elspeit Patrie
Married the first day June

The heading of that page gave us the year (1647). And in case I haven’t said, ‘Elspeit’ and ‘Elizabeth’ are interchangeable.

15 Year of Patrie Farquhar marriage

Now, referring back to the books that gave the christening or birth dates of two of Sir Robert Farquhar’s and Elizabeth Patrie’s children–could someone please explain to me how they were christened in 1621 and 1624 when their parents didn’t marry until 1647?

And again, we see in the original records that the Elizabeth Patrie who married Thomas Bucke in 1639 and Robert Farquhar in 1647, and who was said to be Robert Patrie’s daughter, married twice before her own parents were married on May 1, 1660, at St. Nicholas church in Aberdeen.

I know I’m beating this to DEATH, but “Researcher Beware!” These ‘accounts’ and published compilations of information can derive from faulty sources. Or maybe just wrong assumptions.

Munro says that Elizabeth (or Elspeit) Patrie, wife of Robert Farquhar, died in November of 1665, and I think that that’s right, according to the written record:

16 Dame Eliz Patrie, wife of Farquhar burial

Dam—or Dame—Elizabeth Patrie
Lady to Sir Robert Farquhar
of Mounie was interred (?)
the 26 day of November 1665

Seventeenth century registrars liked to abbreviate.

Munro says that Sir Robert Farquhar himself died on January 1, 1666, and I didn’t verify that. With apologies to Sir Robert, it doesn’t really matter. Munro says he was around 80 years old. We can see in the partial list of Aberdeen provosts above, that his last turn as provost was 1650-51.

We’ve established that Sir Robert Farquhar’s wife could not have been Robert Patrie’s daughter, but she might have been related, all the same. Perhaps she was Robert Patrie’s aunt? The reason I suspect a familial connection is that Sir Robert Farquhar is mentioned in the birth registration of Robert Patrie’s son, William, on December 28, 1662.

This is not necessarily proof of a family connection, but it’s entirely possible that Farquhar’s wife Elizabeth Patrie may have had a connection to Robert and Anna Patrie. The relief rolls of 1639 list quite a number of the heads of Aberdeen families, and there were only two Patries on the list—so it wasn’t a common name.

Robert Patrie and Sir Robert Farquhar probably moved in the same social circles, since they were both involved in the municipal government, but I wouldn’t guess them to be friends, owing to their age difference. Possibly they had a mentoring relationship, or Robert Patrie may have wanted to show deference and respect to the older man, who was wealthy and influential. If Munro was right about Farquhar’s age at his death in 1666, he would have been in his mid-70s at the time Robert Patrie’s son was born in 1662.

Here is the burial information for Robert and Anna Patrie (née Forbes) along with other Patries on the same page of the registry:

17 Nov 1675 Anna Forbes spouse to Provost Petrie £40-0-0 in the kirk with ane oaken coffin
1686 Janet Patrie by warrand
Jan 1687 Margaret Peiter £3-0-0
Dec 1687 Mr. Robert Patrie late provest £40-0-0 in the Church
1697 Robert Pettrie upon warrand
Dec 1698 Rob. Patrie on warrand
Aug 1699 Janet Patrie on warrand
5 Aug 1700 child of James Petrie £1-0-0
8 May 1701 Robert Patrie son to Patrie of Portlethin £2-0-0

£40 in 1687 would be £8,787.93 in 2016, but the Scots pound at this time was ¼ that value, so the burial would be more like £2,200 today, which is still quite an expensive burial for the time. It seems, from other records in the same register, that a pretty average burial cost would be from £1 to £3.

The ‘Robert Patrie, son to Patrie of Portlethin’ who died in May of 1701 does not appear to be the late provost’s son, incidentally. As mentioned, the Portlethen estate was inherited by Patrie’s nephew James, and very likely the Robert who died in 1701 was James’s son.

I’m not quite sure what is meant by ‘on warrand’ or ‘upon warrand’ for this time period. Since it appears in the column for expenses, I’m wondering whether it is some sort of poverty provision. Or perhaps it signified that a coroner’s involvement was needed to authorize the burial.

In any case, it is apparent that funeral costs were not a problem for Robert and Anna Patrie.

Sir Charles Petrie described the Petries/Patries of Aberdeen in this way:

“The Petries hailed from Aberdeen and Kincardine, and one of them is said to have fought at Bannockburn. There are fifteen members of the family on the burgess-roll of Aberdeen between 1399 and 1631, and in the early years of the reign of Charles II one Robert Petrie, laird of Portlethen, was Provost of Aberdeen on seven occasions, and was M.P. for that city from 1665 to 1667 and again from 1669 to 1674. He was knighted by the Duke of York, afterwards James II, and the records show that while he was engaged on his Parliamentary duties at Edinburgh the Council of Aberdeen allowed him £5 Scots a day, so perhaps he may be said to have made politics pay. Not long afterwards the family fortunes declined, for the Petries supported the Stuarts after the Revolution. Victrix causa deis placuit, sed victa Catoni, and Cato, in this case my ancestors, suffered for his loyalty.”

I was going to contradict Sir Charles on the number of times Robert Petrie/Patrie was provost, because, from the list, it looks like three. However, it seems that provosts were elected year-by-year, and there were seven years for Robert Patrie, so some of his terms in office were consecutive.

I do have to take issue with Sir Charles’s assertion that Robert Patrie was knighted.  As previously mentioned, I can find no record of it. Also, Robert Patrie ran seriously afoul of King Charles II in 1674, if the following account is to be believed, which makes a knighthood (even one granted by James, Duke of York) even more unlikely.

The passage quoted below is taken from Alexander M. Munro’s Memorials of the Aldermen, Provosts, Lord Provosts of Aberdeen, 1272-1893, in the section on Robert Petrie of Portlethen:

In July, 1665, there was a meeting of the Convention of Burghs held in Aberdeen, at which Petrie was elected moderator. This was not the last time, however, that the honour was put upon him, although on the second occasion it was rather dearly purchased. Charles, by a letter dated in July, 1674, ad-dressed himself to the Convention, asking them to revoke their statutes which provided that burgesses might be elected as representatives to Parliament, although not actual indwellers of the burghs they represented. In proceeding to draw up an answer to His Majesty’s letter, several members of the Convention were not pleased at the manner in which it was couched, and refused to be parties to sending it, but the answer bearing date 17th August was ultimately approved of by the majority of the Commissioners present. Among those who did not see their way to plainly tell the King that the burghs in Scotland had endured quite enough of interference in their affairs by His Majesty was James Currie, Provost of Edinburgh, and moderator of the Convention. As he refused to sign the letter he left the chair, and Petrie was chosen moderator for the purpose of signing the letter. The result was most disastrous to the Provost, for the letter was considered highly offensive, and he was fined in the large sum of a thousand pounds Scots. Petrie was in Aberdeen till about the middle of January, 1675, but evidently having difficulty in raising the amount of the fine, he went south to Edinburgh, and on the 18th January the Council minutes of that city contain the following :

” Provost Peitrie in Aberdeane entered in prison within the Tolbuth of Edr., according to the Council’s order.”

Meanwhile, a meeting of the Convention had been held in Edinburgh, when a letter was adopted and sent to His Majesty, entirely repudiating the former missive, and intimating that it had been deleted from the minutes of the Convention. The magistrates of Aberdeen, acting along with the Council, evidently got alarmed at the turn matters had taken, and they also took the earliest opportunity of sending a commissioner to the Convention to express their entire disapproval of the action taken by Provost Petrie. The Provost appears to have remained in ward for some considerable time, as it was not till the month of April that the Council, on the supplication of Petrie, agreed to lend him the sum of a thousand pounds to pay the fine. It does not appear that the Provost ever repaid this sum, the burgh feeling itself, doubtless, in honour bound for the debt, considering how it had been contracted.”

I don’t know exactly what a thousand pounds Scots was worth versus the pound, but the value of the Scottish pound was debased versus the English pound in the time of James II (1685-1688) to a ratio of 4:1. That may mean that the fine was 250 pounds sterling; still a substantial fine for the times.

This illustration below shows the old Tolbooth Prison in Edinburgh where Robert Patrie was held for a time, until his fine was paid to the king.


“Over the years it served a variety of purposes such as housing the Burgh Council, early meetings of the Parliament of Scotland and the Court of Session. The Tolbooth was also the burgh’s main jail where, in addition to incarceration, physical punishment and torture were routinely conducted.” [Wikipedia] The building was demolished in 1817.

I’m going to re-quote Sir Charles at this point, where he says, “the records show that while he was engaged on his Parliamentary duties at Edinburgh the Council of Aberdeen allowed him £5 Scots a day, so perhaps he may be said to have made politics pay.” Hmmm…I don’t think that the money quite compensates for incarceration in Tolbooth prison. Did Sir Charles know about that?

The following is also from the ‘Memorials’ book by Munro…

Anna Forbes died in November, 1675, and the Provost was dead by the 24th April, 1688, when James Petrie, eldest son of Robert Petrie, merchant in Edinburgh, was served heir to his uncle. In a MS. return for poll, dated 1694, this James Petrie, who describes himself as ” late oft’ Portlethene,” gives up his stock for the purpose of the polltax as above 500 and within 5,000 merks. At that date he was married and had two young children, one of whom was in all probability the “Robert Patrie, son to Portlethen,” who was interred in the family grave in S. Nicholas Church on the 8th May, 1701.  [oops,  where’s my reference?  oh, who cares…just trust me]

While Sir Charles Petrie, historian, may be right that Robert Patrie, provost of Aberdeen was our ancestor in some way, he definitely puts a foot wrong when he says in his memoirs:

“The next Petrie of any note was Sir Robert’s great-grandson, and my great-great grandfather, George Petrie.” [Chapters of Life, p. 11]

First, as I’ve said, Robert was not a ‘Sir’. And as George’s will bears witness, George was nobody’s great-great grandfather, unless Mary “his girl” named in the will, whom he suspected to be with child by him, gave birth to PETER, who was returned to Scotland at some point.

Incidentally, I take George’s comment that Mary was “his girl” to mean that she was a servant in his household in Ceylon, probably a young-ish local woman, since he leaves her 200 rupees in his will as a ‘marriage portion,’ and an additional 500 rupees, under the administration of one of his executors, for the child.  I expect he thought it would improve her chances of marrying someone if she were to be furnished with a dowry on his demise.

I’m not sure that an additional 500 rupees would defray the expenses of bearing his child.  How many Sri Lankan men would accept as bride a woman bringing with her the offspring of a British military officer?  I don’t know.  I think it might get complicated.  Perhaps Mary decided to give the child up–and if this child was Peter, my 3x great-grandfather, he would have been taken to Scotland by somebody, maybe one of George’s executors–perhaps Alexander Gray?

18 Section of Geo Petrie will, Mary My Girl with child

I leave and bequeath unto Mary my Girl the sum of two hundred rupees as a marriage portion and as there is a probability of her being with child to me I leave her further the sum of five hundred rupees subject to the management of my friend Lieutenant Alexander Gray…

Found this information in the Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive.  He kept a journal during his time in the military in India, and this entry from 1793 tells us that he was able to rent a fairly nice house for 50 rupees per month, which gives us a little bit of an idea about the purchasing power of the rupee in the 1790s.  I’ve seen another entry that says he rented a house for 150 rupees for himself and his new wife.

May 28.
The 77th. Regiment removed to Bombay.

I omitted to mention, that on the removal of the Regiment from Coolabah on this day to the Barracks in Bombay, that I took a neat little up–stair House adjoining to the Ramparts in the Rear of the Garden Ravelin, for Fifty Rupees per Month; where I am very well accommodated.

[Macquarie, Lachlan. Journal No. 2: 26 March 1792 – 28 December 1794.]

Whether or not the direct connection to George Petrie is valid, Sir Charles’s claim that we descend directly from Provost Robert Patrie/Petrie is not.

Provost Robert Patrie’s son, William, appears to have died young, with the result that his estate went to his nephew, James.  Provost ROBERT was not the great-grandfather of George.

On page 12 of Chapters of Life Sir Charles says of George,

“In 1796 he was present at the capture of Colombo, and ten years later, already on half-pay, he died through the re-opening of a bullet wound in the leg; though when or where he received it history does not relate.”

There are a few contributions I could make to that snippet from Sir Charles’s memoirs.  First, Colombo, Ceylon, or Sri Lanka, was being governed by the Dutch East India Company in July of 1796 when it was handed over to the British, which was one month before George Petrie died.  So he was ‘present’ but must have been seriously ill, dying shortly thereafter…the next month, in fact.

George WAS apparently wounded, and it seems to have been at the battle of Seringapatam, against Tipu (a.k.a. ‘Tippoo’) Sultan, in 1792.  There were a number of battles in that conflict, and the concluding one, in which Tipu Sultan died, was in 1799.

Surname   Petrie
Rank   Brigade Major
Occupation or Status   72nd Regiment
Location   Seringapatam
Summary Remarks   List of Officers Killed and Wounded in the attack on Seringapatam. Wounded.
Article Type   News Article

This record seems to fit.  George was promoted to major in the 21st Foot, as published in The London Gazette of November 20, 1790.  So his rank is correct for the battle of Seringapatam in 1792.

He changed regiments from the 21st to the 72nd in 1791.  This is from The London Gazette of January 4, 1791:  “72d (Highland) Regiment of Foot, Brevet-Major, George Petrie, from the 21st-Regiment, to be Captain of a Company, vice Brevet-Major James Campbell, who exchanges.”

I didn’t see a transfer to the 77th regiment in The London Gazette (that’s not to say it wasn’t there–just that my search didn’t pick it up), but it seems that this happened in July of 1794, according to Lachlan Macquarie (see quote below).  This makes sense, since George Petrie’s close friends and executors, Colin Anderson and Alexander Gray, were both with the 77th…

July 23.
By this day’s Post from Bengal, official accounts arrived of the Promotion of Major Stirling to the Lieutenant Colonelcy of the 74th. Regiment vacant by the death of Colonel Hamilton Maxwell. — Brevet Major George Petrie from the 72d. Regiment succeeds Major Stirling as Major to the 77th. Regiment.

[Macquarie, Lachlan. Journal No. 2: 26 March 1792 – 28 December 1794.]

I didn’t really have a good sense of what it meant (or means) to be a Major as opposed to a Lieutenant Colonel or anything else, really.  George Petrie was a Brigade Major at the battle of Seringapatam (1792), where he was reported to have been wounded.  What did his position in the pecking order mean at that time…what did ‘Brigade Major’ mean?

This comes from the Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie Archive (again), and is from 1793.  Apparently with this promotion and the additional income it provides, Lachlan Macquarie is now in a position to propose to his lady-love…

Augt. 2.
Friday. In this day’s General Orders, I have the happiness to find myself appointed to act as Major of Brigade to His Majesty’s Troops on the coast of Malabar, in room of Major Auchmuty, untill [sic] the Commander–in–chief’s pleasure is known: – I cannot express the joy and satisfaction I felt in being informed by Major Auchmuty of my succeeding to this appointment; – I feel myself most gratefully obliged to Sir Robert Abercromby for it, and shall ever remain very gratefully attached to him for this and other obligations he has laid me under; – but, I feel a most pleasing satisfaction from this appointment above all other considerations, as it affords me now the privilege of disclosing my attachment to my dearest Miss J. – which I did not feel myself warranted or authorised to do before; both on account of my very circumscribed income, as well as my promise to Mr. Morley; but, I am now resolved on making her acquainted with my sentiments without loss of time. —

The London Gazette  published George Petrie’s promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in the 72nd (77th?) Regiment on September 6, 1794, two years after the battle at Seringapatam.

The Word document in the link below describes some of the military actions in which he was involved in India.  His name is mentioned in one place in this document, but I don’t see him described as wounded in any of the battles.  Not surprising in the least, since there’s no reason this account of the regiment should be any more accurate than other published records of historical events.

History of the 72nd Regiment

George Petrie apparently died in Ceylon/Sri Lanka, not too long after his will was written.  (The will is dated August 21, 1796, and his date of death was August 25, 1796.)

Surname   Petrie
First names   George
Rank/ Title   Lieut-Colonel
Date of death   25 Aug 1796
Place   The Colombo Pettah Burial Ground
Inscription   Sacred to the memory of George Petrie, Esq., a Lieutenant-Colonel in the British Army and Commandant of this Garrison, who died the 25th day of August,1796, in the 45th year of his age..
Remarks   See image for further bioigraphical details

Sir Charles is correct in putting George in Colombo, Ceylon, in 1796, because that is the year and the place of the writing of George’s will. The will was ‘proved’ two years later, in 1798. Sir Charles’s information that he was still alive 10 years after writing his will is, however, incorrect. Interesting that Sir Charles thinks that George died in 1806, because even the family tree that I started working from (passed along from earlier family genealogists) says that he died in 1801. So where did THEY get 1801? And where did Sir Charles get 1806?

In case you’re unclear about a will being ‘proved,’ here’s an explanation: A will only takes effect (of course) after the death of the person who wrote it. After death, the executor(s) named in the will have to get the will proved and probated. What this entails is satisfying the probate registrar that the will is valid (among other things, validity will rest upon the will having been legally “attested,” or signed by the deceased and two witnesses all in the presence of one another). The executor swears an oath and, having proven their entitlement to act, obtains the Grant of Probate, a one-page certificate (upon which the value of the estate is recorded) enabling them then to ingather the assets, pay any inheritance tax, distribute the estate to its rightful heirs and wind up the administration.

18.1 section of will re 'proved'

My transcription:

“On the fourteenth day of March in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety eight administration (with the will and codicil [?]) of the goods chattels and [credits?] of [?] George Petrie late a Lieutenant Colonel in His [?] Majesty’s Service at Ceylon in the East Indies [?] was granted to William Petrie Esquire the lawful attorney of Collin Anderson and [?] Alexander Gray the Executors named in the said will…”

The writing is a bit difficult to decipher, but I think that I’ve got the basic facts that George Petrie was ‘late’ a Lieutenant Colonel (meaning that he has died, rather than retired–any rank achieved in the military is permanent, and is not relinquished on retirement); the date was March 14th of 1798; and the administration of his estate was granted to William Petrie, the lawful attorney of Collin Anderson and Alexander Gray, “the executors named in the said will.”  Evidently there was a year and a half delay after his death before the executors got to work.

Found another mention of one of George’s executors (Colin Anderson) in the journal of Lachlan Macquarie…

“…preparatory to the happy event, I took my leave of her untill [sic] the Evening, and went to the Barracks, where I took a sober farewel [sic] and last Bachelor’s dinner with my good and much esteemed friend Surgeon Colin Anderson of the 77th. Regiment, with whom I had some agreeable conversation on my approaching happiness.”

[Macquarie, Lachlan. Journal No. 2: 26 March 1792 – 28 December 1794]

Additional mentions of George in Lachlan Macquarie’s journals are below.  Unfortunately, Macquarie lost his wife Jane in the month before George Petrie died, or we would have learned more about what happened to him in the final stage of his life.  The journal for 1796 appears to end in the month of May.  However, we can see George Petrie in action here, from February 24, 1795, until a few months before he died in August of 1796…

Feby. 24. (1795)
Tuesday. — This Eveing [sic] Major George Petrie of the 77th. Regt. arrived in Cantonments from Madras, and took the command of the Regiment next morning after inspecting it. — The Officers were introduced to him in the morning by Captain Whitelocke. He is to live in the mean time with his old friend and acquaintance Doctor Anderson, until his own House is ready to receive him. He appears to be an extreme pleasant Gentleman–like man, and he bears a very high character as an officer. I rode into Town with Major Petrie Capt. Whitelocke and Doctor Anderson; the Major having obligingly called previously to wait on and be introduced to Mrs. Macquarie; – we invited him to dine with us on the following Sunday, which he accepted. —


Mar. 1.
Sunday. Major Petrie, Capt. Whitelocke, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, Anderson, Gordon and several other friends dined with us this day, ands we had a very agreeable Party. —

June 30.
It rained a great deal the whole of this month — nothing new occurred: except that Major Petrie has been very ill of the liver for some time past, but is now recovering. —

July 6.
Monday. I went this morning with my Brother in law, and Lieut. Alexr. Campbell, to introduce them to Colonel Petrie (lately Lt. Colonel by Brevet) and all the officers of the Regiment, who were all very happy to see them. —

July 12.
Sunday. — Lieut. Colonel Petrie having pretty well recovered from his late illness, was able to come out to dine with us today. — He was some long time since so obliging as to do the favor to become one of our Sunday Party; but, for a month past we have been deprived of his Society. — Mr. Richards, Capt. Whitelocke, Capt. Bowne, and several other friends dined with us also this day. — We had a most pleasant Party.

[Lachlan Macquarie has evidently forgotten George Petrie’s rank in this next entry…]

July 21.
Tuesday. This day Major Petrie with the two Flank Companies of the 77th. Regt., and the Grenadier Battn. of Native Infantry were ordered to hold themselves in readiness to march on the 23d. Instant. — The cause of this Detachment being ordered, is in consequence of orders lately transmitted from home, announcing that the Dutch have Seceded from the Grand Confederacy against France, banished the Stadtholder, (who has been obliged with his family to fly to England for Protection) and formed an alliance with the French Nation who had conquered and overrun the greatest Part of Holland: this Detachment, in consequence of these advices, is ordered by the Bombay Government to Cochin to offer that Government the British aid and Protection during the present war with France, offering to garrison and hold it for the Prince of Orange until he is restored again as Stadtholder or a General Peace is concluded; if the Dutch do not accept of these amicable terms offered through Colonel Petrie, a stronger force in that case is to be sent after him, to enable him to force the Dutch to a compliance in a hostile way; if they do not give up the Place peaceably, which it is supposed they will not Do. —

July 23.
Thursday! Major Petrie and the Detachment ordered on the 21st. Inst. marched this morning at Seven O’Clock for Cochin: we, who call ourselves on this occasion the precious remains, flatter ourselves we shall not remain long behind the Guardians of our right and left Wings.

Augt. 28.
Friday. At 6.A.M. The Regiment marched to occupy a new ground of Encampment about 3 miles farther on, where we formed a junction with our two Flank Companies. —After writing to my dearest Jane from our new ground and dressing myself, I went to visit my worthy friend Colonel Petrie at his Head Quarters at the principal Encampment of his Detachment near Vijpeen Point opposite to Cochin and distant about 3 miles from ours. — I staid [sic] to dine with him, and spent a very pleasant day. — Here I met with my excellent good friend Doctor Anderson of the 77th., who had been sent to join Colonel Petrie’s Detachment some little time before as Head Inspecting Field Surgeon – and for which important situation no one was more fit. — I returned home in the Evening. —

Augt. 29.
Saturday. — I rode out early this morning along with my Brother in law Lieut. Jarvis to introduce him to Colonel Petrie as a Volunteer desirous of having the honor of serving under him on the present Service – and the Colonel was so good as to accept of his Services in the handsomest and kindest manner, directing that he should be attached to and do Duty with the 77th. Grenadiers until further orders. — We staid [sic] to Breakfast with Colonel Petrie and then returned to our own Camp. —

Augt. 30.
Sunday. — At 4.A.M. The Tents were Struck and the 77th. Regt. marched to the Banks of the Ayacottah River, distant only half a mile where we embark on Jangars along with the Bombay Sepoy Grenadier Battn. commanded by Capt. John McDonald, and accompanied by Colonel Petrie and his staff.

Augt. 31.
Monday. — This is a Halting Day, and our mess dine with Col: Petrie.

Septr. 1.  Col: Petrie having issued the necessary orders to that effect, and every proper arrangement being previously made for that purpose, The Detachment crossed the Cochin River under cover of the night, in Jangars and such other Boats as could be procured, into the Island of Cochin, in four separate Divisions.

Septr. 3.
Thursday. — Colonel Petrie attended by his Staff and the Engineer went out this morning to Reconnoitre the Enemy’s Position, Fortress of Cochin, and the different Roads leading to it from our present Ground of Encampment. — I had the honor to be appointed to command the Escort that accompanied the Colonel consisting of Two Companies of the 77th. and Two Companies of Grenadier Sepoys. — We set out at 5,O’Clock in the morning, and returned about 11,O’Clock after a very pleasant Excursion through the Country immediately lying between us and the Town and Fortress of Cochin…

Septr. 6.
Sunday. — Mr. Stevens, Supravisor of the Province of Malabar, and his Secretary Mr. Richards, arrived this day in Camp. — In the Evening these two Gentlemen, accompanied by Colonel Petrie, went into Cochin Fort at the particular request of the Dutch Governor to have an interview and conference with him previous to the commencement of Hostilities.

Septr. 7.
Monday. — I am “Captain of the Day”, and consequently in command and charge of all the Camp Guards & Piquets. —

I dined with Colonel Petrie in company with Mr. Stevens & Mr. Richards

In the Evening Govr. Van Spall sent in to Col: Petrie and Mr. Stevens an equivocal and evasive answer, requesting another day to consider of the Proposals made him yesterday, which is granted. — Mr. Stevens and Mr. Richards left Camp this Evening. —

Septr. 8.
Tuesday. — Governor Van Spall sent in another evasive answer this morning to Colonel Petrie, of which the latter took no notice. —

By this day’s Tappal or Post from Madras, we received a most unwelcome and very unpleasant piece of news – which the officers of the 77th. Regt. most sincerely regret – namely: that His Majesty has not been pleased to confirm the appointment of Brevet Lt. Colonel Petrie to the Majority of the 77th., to which he had been some time since nominated by Sir Robert Abercromby the Commander in Chief in India, in room of Major Stirling Promoted to the Lt. Colonelcy of the 74th. Regt.; but that Capt. Whitelocke (our eldest Capt.) has succeeded to the Majority from interest made for him by his friends at Home. — This news however is not yet received officially which induce us to hope it may still be so arranged at Home as to admit of Colonel Petrie continuing our Major and Commanding officer. — At all events many months must elapse before the official intelligence can come to hand to remove him. —

Septr. 9.
Wednesday. — Govr. Van Spall has at length sent in to Col: Petrie a pretty clear and decisive answer to the proposals lately made him, by which it appears that he is positively determined not to admit a British Garrison into Cochin – but on the contrary to defend it to the last extremity.

Septr. 25.
Friday. — I was relieved early this morning by Capt. Grant and an equal number of officers and men; and returned to Camp with my Detachmt., where I arrived at 9,O’Clock and made my Report to Colonel Petrie.

Septr. 29.
Tuesday. — Colonel Petrie went over this day to visit the Post at Vypeen and to hasten the preparations there, now that the Guns & Stores are arrived. —

Septr. 30.
Wednesday. — Colonel Petrie returned from Vypeen, and is well pleased with the state of forwardness of that Post. —

Octr. 4.
Sunday. — Colonel Petrie this day received an order from Colonel Mc.Pherson, now Commanding in the Province of Malabar, directing him to order me up immediately to Calicut, in order there to be ready to avail myself of the first opportunity that may offer of proceeding to Bombay, as an Evidence at Capt. Mc.Kenzie’s General Court Martial. —

I have however written officially to Col: Petrie soliciting most earnestly that he may apply and obtain permission for me to be allowed to remain here until the Siege of Cochin is over, and he has accordingly written and forwarded my application to the Commanding officer of the Province of Malabar. —

I ceased firing the Six Pounder at 7,O’Clock, and was then relieved by Captain Grant, to whom I delivered over charge of the Post. — I staid [sic] to Breakfast with Capt. Grant, and then marched my Detachment back to Camp, where I made my Report to Colonel Petrie as soon as I arrived, and who expressed himself very much pleased with my Proceedings. —

Colonel Petrie having intimated that he had some orders of importance to send over immediately to Major Wiseman Commanding at the Post on Vypeen Point, I volunteered to be the Bearer of them; and the Colonel having communicated to me verbally his Instructions for Major Wiseman, I rode back as fast as I could to Muttoncherry…

I left the Battery about 2,O’Clock and arrived in Camp about 4,O’Clock in the afternoon. — I found Colonel Petrie in the Trenches, where I made him my Report. —

About half an hour before my arrival in the Trenches, the Enemy had beat the chamade and hung out the White Flag on the South West Bastion of Cochin Fort to beg a Truce and a Cessation of Hostilities for the purpose of proposing terms of Capitulation. — An Officer with a Flag of Truce from Govr. Van Spall arrived in our Trenches about Five O’Clock with certain Proposals for Colonel Petrie’s acceptance – but which he deemed inadmissible and accordingly rejected; granting however Two Hours more to the Governor for consideration of the Terms now proposed to him by Colonel Petrie – “to surrender as Prisoners of War” —

The Dutch Officer was accordingly sent back immediately to the Fort with this message. — Several messages passed and repassed between the Dutch Governor and Colonel Petrie in negotiating the Terms of the Capitulation to be granted to the Garrison; but those proposed by Colonel Petrie were finally, (at a very late hour of the Night,) after much discussion and studied delay on the part of the Dutch, submitted to and signed by Governor Van Spall.

Octr. 20.
Tuesday! — At Noon today, agreeably to the Articles of Capitulation signed last Night by Colonel Petrie and Governor Spall, A Detachment of the 77th. Regt. consisting of Two Captains (Capt. Whitelocke & myself) Four Subalterns and 150 men marched from Camp to take Possession of the Muttoncherry Gate of Cochin Fort…

Octr. 21.
Wednesday. — I made my Report early this morning to Major Wiseman, and Breakfasted with Colonel Petrie, and Congratulated him on the happy success of our operations. — The Dutch Garrison are now perfectly quiet and there was no disturbance last night in the Town owing to the very judicious arrangements made by Colonel Petrie.

Octr. 25.
Sunday. — I took a very pleasant Ride with Doctr. Anderson, my Brother in law, and some other friends, this forenoon, along the Island of Cochin as far as the South end of it, through a very rich beautiful Country, going through the middle of the Island and returning Home by the Sea–Beach. — On our return we visited Colonel Petrie in Cochin Fort. —

Octr. 27. At 3,O’Clock I left Camp along with my Travelling Companions and went into the Fort, where we all dined with our greatly esteemed and respected Commanding Officer Colonel Petrie, and with whom we spent a most jovial pleasant day. — After Dinner the Colonel was so good as to accompany us to governor Van Spall’s, where we were introduced to himself, his Lady, and Daughters. — We staid [sic] about an hour with them, it being at the Governor’s Garden House (about a mile from the Fort) that we visited them, another returned to Col: Petrie’s House in the Fort, took a slight Supper with him, and Embarked on board of our Pattamar about 9,O’Clock at Night.

Decr 3.
Thursday. — This Government received late last Night Dispatches from the Supreme Government at Bengal, which contain orders to have a Detachment of Troops and Stores immediately prepared on the Malabar Coast to be ready when called for to Co–operate with one from Madras for the Reduction of the Dutch Fortress of Columbo; and all other settlements belonging to that Nation on the Island of Ceylon; – which orders were this immediately day communicated by the Bombay Government to Colonel Balfour Commanding the Forces under this Presidency. — The 77th. Regt. is to be employed on this Service, and I am rejoiced to find that my worthy good friend Colonel Petrie is nominated to command the Bombay Detachment ordered for this Service. — The Expedition against Columbo is to be commanded by Colonel James Stuart of the 72d. Regt. – a very old and experienced gallant good officer. —

Decr 5.
Saturday. — I wrote this day to Colonel Petrie, Dr. Anderson, and other friends of the 77th., announcing to them the agreeable intelligence of our being ordered on the expedition against Columbo. — My Letters went by a Dispatch Boat which sailed this day for Malabar.

Jany. 17. (1796)
Sunday ! — We have had a charming fair wind over since we left Calicut yesterday; and at 4,O’Clock this afternoon we anchored in Cochin River close to the Fort. — I waited immediately on landing on my amiable worthy friend Col: Petrie who was very happy to see me. — I afterwards called on Capt. Whitelocke, Doctr. Anderson, and all my other 77th. Friends – all of whom I found well and happy. —

Jany. 21.
Thursday ! — Colonel Petrie having received intelligence that Colonel Stuart with the Troops destined for the Siege of Columbo, had embarked and sailed from Madras, and that the whole of the Troops destined for this Expedition were directed to Rendezvous at Negombo, in the Gulph of Manar; the Bombay Detachment Embarked this morning at Cochin on board their respective Transports. — The whole of the 77th. Regt. embarked on board the Epaminondas, a very large Ship, which held us all very commodiously. — Colonel Petrie himself embarked on board the Swift Cruizer Commanded by Capt. Billamore.

Feby. 1.
Monday. — My Brother George and myself went this morning to pay our respects to Col: Petrie on board the Swift Cruizer. — We found him busy preparing to go on shore at Tutacorin, and having invited us to accompany him we did so accordingly. — We all dined with the Officer Commanding at the Fort – and returned on board in the Evening. — At Tutacorin we first learnt the exact amount of Colonel Stuart’s Force, and the names and description of the Corps of which it is composed. — As from this information it appears that no part of the 36th. Regt. is to be employed on this Expedition, Col: Petrie agreeably to his kind promise has written to the Officer commanding the Forces at Madras to allow George Jarvis to serve as a Volunteer on the present Service with the 77th. Regiment, and with which he has directed George should in the mean time do Duty. —

Feby. 2.
Tuesday. — Immediately after Breakfast this morning, I went on board the Swift to see Col: Petrie, and had the pleasure of being then introduced to Colonel Dugald Campbell of the Madras Native Cavalry, who had come on board to see his old friend Col: Petrie.

Feby. 6.
Saturday ! — My Brother George and myself were this morning introduced by our friend Col: Petrie to our new Commander in chief Colonel Stuart who appears to be a pleasant gentlemanlike man. —

Feby. 7.
Sunday! — The Flank Companies of the 3 King’s Regiments having been formed into a Battalion under the command of Capt. Barbut of the 73d. Regt., were joined this morning by the Bbay Grenadr. Battn. of Sepoys under Capt. McDonald, marched this day at Noon under the command of Lt. Colonel Petrie to take Post 12 miles in advance of the rest of the Army.

Feby. 10.
Wednesday — This is Halting Day. —

I went to call on Lt. Col: Petrie and my Brother George at the Camp of the Flank Battalion, about a mile in advance from our Ground, immediately as soon as I had Breakfasted, accompanied by Doctr. Anderson and Lieut. Shaw, – and staid for a Couple of Hours there.

Feby. 18.  At 2. P.M. I was sent for by Colonel Stuart to come to speak to him at his Quarters in the Fort, where he had removed yesterday.

Upon my waiting on him, he was pleased to say – that – from the very high character he had heard of me from Lt. Col: Petrie and others, he was desirous to entrust me with the Command of a Detachment…

Feby. 19.  After getting my Instructions and taking Leave of Colonel Stuart – and my good friend Lt. Col: Petrie, I returned Home to my Quarters and took an early hasty Dinner with my messmates…

Feby. 27.
Saturday. — Nothing Extraordinary. I wrote Letters of this date to Colonel Stuart and Lt. Col: Petrie.

Mar: 15.
Tuesday! — I received Letters this day from my friend Colonel Kerr at Bombay, by which I am grieved to find that my beloved wife has for some time back been in very delicate health. — This alarms me very much – and has induced me to write to Colonel Stuart to request that I may be relieved from my command here as soon as the nature of the Service will admit of it, as, Domestic Concerns of the utmost importance requires my going to Bombay as soon as possible. — I wrote at same time to my worthy friend Colonel Petrie explaining to him more fully my reasons for wishing to go to Bombay at this particular period. —

Mar: 17.
Thursday! — I received most pleasing and very flattering Letters today from Colonel Stuart, in which he expresses himself highly pleased with every part of my conduct during the period of my Command at Point de Galle.  […]

I had the pleasure of receiving very satisfactory Letters from my friend Lt. Col: Petrie also by this day’s Post.

[Mar: 21.]  I then took my leave of Colonel Stuart, and went to call on Lieut. Colonel Petrie – whom I was happy to find had been lately appointed Commandant of Columbo. — After remaining a short time with Colonel Petrie I visited my friends of the 77th.

Mar: 22.  I dined today with Colonel Petrie, along with Dr. Anderson and other 77th. Friends. —

Mar: 25.  I dined at Col: Petrie’s along with Capt. Whitelocke – Dr. Anderson – and several other officers of the 77th.

Mar: 28.
Monday. — I took a long walk early this morning through the Town of Columbo and along the Ramparts of the Forts to examine and look at the Works and noble fine Guns mounted on them. — men belonging to the 7th. Battn. Madras Native Infantry, Commanded by Capt. Bowzer, executed this day at Noon for Mutiny against their Officers. — The whole of the Troops were under arms on the occasion drawn up in 3 sides of a Square on the Exercising Ground near the Fort. — I commanded the Left of the 77th. Regt. on this awful occasion. — Lt. Col: Petrie, as the Commandant of the Garrison, commanded the whole of the Troops under Arms. —

I dined today with Colonel Petrie, who had a large Party at Dinner. —

Mar: 30.   As soon as we had broke up from Table at Colonel Stuart’s, and I had taken my leave of him, I called on my good worthy friend Lieut. Colonel Petrie, who had Captain Grant and several other officers of the Left Wing of the 77th. to dine with him. — I sat with him for near an Hour – and at half past 8,O’Clock, we took our leave of our much esteemed and beloved commanding officer and embarked on board the Jane; we were all very sensibly affected at parting with this most respectable and amiable man, more especially as we have little chance of ever serving under him again – the accounts of his not being confirmed as our Major having proved but too true. —

Ap1. 17!   I wrote Letters of this date to my friend Doctor Anderson at Calicut, and to Lt. Colonel Petrie, Capt. Gray, and Lieut. Gray of the 77th. Regt. at Colombo.

Ap1. 21.   I wrote also Letters of this date to Lt. Col: Petrie, Lieut. Walker, and Lieut. Gray at Colombo; and to Doctr. Anderson at Calicut. —

[NOTE:  There were no further entries after May of 1796, and George Petrie would have died in August of that year.  Lachlan Macquarie’s wife Jane seems to have died in July, just before George, since Macquarie says in Sept of 1800 that he’s been in mourning for her by wearing black crepe on his left arm for four years and two months.]

[Macquarie, Lachlan. Journal No.3: 29 December 1794 – 27 September 1799]



George Petrie, Tombstones and Monuments in Ceylon, Pettah cemetery crop

Below is another item published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of April 1797.  It gives a death date of 1797, but I suspect, since there was no day or month given, that the year was pulled from the edition of the magazine.  It definitely appears that George died on August 25, 1796, and that he was around age 45.

This item tells us that he died of a prolonged illness, compounded by ‘disappointment in the line of his promotion.’

Surname   Petrie
First names   George
Rank/ occupation   Lieut.-Colonel
Unit   72nd Regiment
Death date   1797
Place of death   Colombo
Source   Gentleman’s Magazine
Date   Apr 1797
Page number   356
Detail   At Colombo, in the island of Ceylon, after a long and severe illness, contracted by the fatigues of actual service in the field, and increased by disappointment in the line of his promotion, Lieut. Col. George Petrie, of the 72d Regiment, universally lamented by the army with whom he had served with distinguished reputation, and who, by their general regret for his loss, paid an honourable tribute to his reputation as an officer and a gentleman.

“Young men wanting to hold any sort of official position needed support from someone with “an interest”, which the military historian Richard Holmes has described as a “rich mixture of patronage, influence, family and regimental connection, the comradeship of campaign and arm of service, debts for past favours and sureties for future help.””

[from The Letters of Captain John Orrok,” McBrayne, Alison, Troubador Publishing Ltd., 2008, p. 6, quoting from Sahib: The British Soldier in India 1750 – 1914, Holmes, Richard, London 2005, p. 189]

George had some military connections through the Colvilles.   Vice-Admiral Alexander Colville (7th Lord of Culross) would have been his uncle, and John Colville (6th Lord of Culross) would have been his grandfather.  (Hon Anne Colville, daughter of the 8th Lord of Culross, who married Captain James Forsyth on April 19, 1802, was probably the ‘Miss Colvill’ mentioned in George Petrie’s will.)

I don’t believe that these military connections did George much good in his career, possibly because the only high-ranking Colville was in the navy?  Also, that high-ranking Colville (Alexander) died in 1770, during George’s early career in the military.  George was born ca 1751.

Vice-Admiral Alexander Colville, 7th Lord of Culross (also spelled Colvill) (28 February 1717 – 21 May 1770) served as the Commodore and Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in North America from 1757 to 1762. [Wikipedia]

The 6th Lord Colville of Culross would have been George’s grandfather.  George’s mother was Elizabeth Colville, who married Robert Petrie…

John [Colville], de jure later de facto 6th Lord Colville of Culross

born 1690

mar. 1716 Elizabeth Johnston (b. c. 1701; d. 3 Mar 1747/8)


  1. Hon Alexander Colville, later 7th Lord Colville of Culross

  2. Charles Colville (dvp. an infant)

  3. Lieut Hon George Colville, served in Col Gooch’s Regiment in America (b. 1720; dvp. of fever in New York 1739)

  4. Hon John Colville, later 8th Lord Colville of Culross

  5. Capt Hon Charles Colville (b. 21 Apr 1726; d. 15 Mar 1763)

  6. Capt Hon James Colville RN, lost at sea when HMS Sunderland foundered off Pondicherry (b. 1734; d. 21 Jan 1761)

  7. Hon Margaret Colville, mar. Capt Paul Castlemaine, of Horsley, co. Gloucester, and had issue

  8. Hon Mary Colville (dvp. an infant 4 Apr 1731)

  9. Hon Elizabeth Colville, mar. Robert Petrie, and had issue (George)

died  20 Apr 1741

succeeded by  son


an Ensign at the Battle of Malplaquet 1709; applied to vote at the election of Scottish Peers 1722 but was refused on the ground of the peerage not being on the Union Roll; his claim to the peerage as heir male of the 1st Lord Colville of Culross was acknowledged by the House of Lords 27 May 1723; at the Siege of Gibraltar 1727; Lt Col in the war with Spain 1739, during which he died in an epidemic in the transport ships off Cartagena (in present-day Colombia).


This is George Petrie’s mother’s death registration–she died on April 30, 1754, when George was likely around age three or four…

Elizabeth Colvil wife of Robert d Apr 30 1754 in Edinburgh.jpg

They group the April, 1754, deaths by cause, but I don’t think we have anything to tell us what Elizabeth died of.  It looks like a ‘C’ in the margin beside her name, but whether this signifies cause of death is unclear.  Even if it did, would the ‘C’ be for ‘Childbed’ or ‘Consumption’ or…?  You can see the list of causes on the page; among them are small pox, suddenly, and the last one on the list looks like water on the head.

This is a close-up of Elizabeth Petrie (née Colville) on the registry:

Elizabeth Colvil wife of Robert d Apr 30 1754 in Edinburgh excerpt

“Mrs. Elizabeth Colvil, sp (spouse) to Robert Pettre of Invernethie, 30th.”

Interesting that her name is given prominence by the larger characters used, and the obvious attempt at calligraphy.  The remainder of the record is cursive writing in the same hand as other entries on the page.  Perhaps the registrar was made aware that Elizabeth was ‘Hon.’ Elizabeth Colville (a.k.a. Colvill), daughter of the 6th Lord Colville of Culross.

I’ll show (below) the family tree I’ve been working from. I’ve added some printed information to it.  Again, I’ll just say that I doubt the existence of Margaret MacDonald, alleged wife of Lieutenant-Colonel George Petrie.

I also believe that William of Rosserk’s SISTER Elizabeth may be incorrect.  If Elizabeth’s name was drawn from the pages of the family Bible, it may be William of Rosserk’s WIFE Elizabeth that we’re seeing here, and she should be shown paired with him above the names of their TEN children (some of whom are missing from this chart).

William’s sister Christian/Christina was also missing.

I’m pretty sure Peter Petrie’s and Jane Thompson’s (a.k.a. Jean Thomson’s) dates are incorrect.  I think that they were born later than 1790 and 1791 (possibly 1796 or 1797), and he died in 1844, not 1846.  Her year of death is correct.  They did not live in Newburgh, but very close to it.  She WAS buried at Killanley churchyard in Ireland, and he was buried in Creich churchyard in Fife, Scotland.

I can find no evidence of Peter having a brother Alexander who died young.  Where did that come from?  They must have taken it from somewhere.  Perhaps they saw Peter’s name shown in a document together with ALEXANDER GRAY’s name.  Alexander Gray was one of the two executors of George Petrie’s will, and HE was given the responsibility of administering the funds (500 rupees) George left in a bequest to his unborn child (Peter?) by ‘his girl’ Mary.  If Alexander subsequently took the child (assuming it was Peter) to Scotland, and their names appeared together on a ship’s list or immigration document or something, perhaps the assumption was that Alexander was Peter’s brother and not his guardian?  It might also be that Alexander Gray took over the care of Peter and had a son he named Alexander, who might then have been assumed to be Peter’s natural brother.  These are wild guesses.  I have some more research to do.

IMPORTANT TREE Petrie shows MOST, cropped

In Chapters of Life, Sir Charles says:

“More remarkable than George Petrie was his wife, Margaret. She was born in Canada in 1750 and died in 1857. My father was five at the time of her death, and he remembered her description of Wolfe’s capture of Quebec. This event had naturally impressed itself upon the old lady’s memory, for she was a MacDonald by birth, and her father had managed to escape to Canada after fighting for the Stuarts in the Forty-Five. […] My great-great grandfather met his future wife when he was released after the War of American Independence, and sent to Canada.”

Margaret may not have existed at all (age 107?).  I don’t believe she was George’s wife–at least he does not seem to be aware of her, and since she supposedly lived a very long time, he ought to have been aware. I quote the passage above because it throws further doubt on Sir Charles’s credibility. How many children of five years old or less (his father was age five at her supposed death) would remember later, as an adult, an account of Wolfe’s capture of Quebec told to them by an elderly woman? That, by itself, stretches the boundaries of belief.

Also, where was Margaret living at the time of the 1841 census in Scotland? George, her alleged husband, would have been dead–we all agree on that, no matter who is telling it:  Sir Charles Petrie, the writers of the family tree in 1978, or me. So, Margaret, if she existed, would have been a widow and likely living with her one-and-only child, Peter, at Ballenbreich Farm in the Parish of Flisk at the time of the 1841 Scottish census. And yet the census-taker does not record her presence there.

It seems more than likely the elderly woman remembered by Sir Charles’s father when he was five years old (assuming he DID remember an elderly woman) would have been Peter’s wife, Jane Thompson (Thomson), who emigrated with the rest of the family to Sligo, Ireland, in 1851-ish, and who may have been living with her son Alexander, Sir Charles’s grandfather. Jane would know nothing about General Wolfe or Quebec, so that was pure fantasy. She died in 1860, when Sir Charles’s father was likely eight years old–he was born in 1852.

I don’t know how to account for all of this family history misinformation told by a professional historian, and the writer of many, many books.

Back to solid ground…Peter Petrie, for a fact, is my 3x great-grandfather. He would have been Sir Charles’s great-grandfather. Sir Charles does not mention him in his book at all. Sadly, there might be some snobbery at work, here. Peter Petrie’s occupation at the time of the 1841 Scottish census was ‘Agricultural Labourer.’

Oh dear.

That’s not very romantic or notable, is it.

That would not enhance one’s social standing in ‘certain circles.’

Additionally, perhaps Sir Charles did not want to call attention to Peter for other reasons.  If Peter was Lieutenant Colonel George Petrie’s son by a Sri Lankan woman, he might have been not only illegitimate but mixed-race.

Below is the 1841 census page showing Peter Pettrie [sic] and family, which at that time includes wife Jane (née Thompson), daughter Christian (a.k.a. Christina), and granddaughter Ann. The ages shown for 15-year-old Christian and two-year-old Ann appear to be correct, since they match with my other sources. The adults’ ages are probably rounded-down a few years.

22.3 Peter Petrie 1841 census FOREIGN

This zooms-in on the headings on the census page, so that you can identify the meaning of the ‘F’ (foreign born).

22.2 HEADINGS Peter Petrie 1841 census

In Scotland, enumeration duties were carried out by the official schoolmaster in each parish and the sheriff deputies (for counties) and provosts (for burghs). As I’ve said previously, they were instructed to round down ages to the nearest five for anyone over the age of 15. Peter and Jane’s actual ages were therefore likely to be somewhere between 40 and 45 (which means that they would have been born between 1796 and 1801).

Balinbreich (or ‘Ballinbreich’) Farm seems to have been some sort of collective farming operation with possibly a number of cottages on the site for farm workers. It appears to be something similar even today. I visited there in 2014, and took some photos…

22.71 photo of farmer's cottages from the road, Ballinbreich

22.4 Ballinbreich farmland, rotated, first

22.5 Ballinbreich, house and castle

What a contrast to see the crumbling, ancient castle juxtaposed in this photo with the sturdy 19th century house. The castle, with the remains of its round tower, is in the process of being reclaimed by nature, eroded by time and the elements, while the house is immaculate, intact, standing its ground. One is maintained and alive, and the other is derelict and dying. One shelters its humans, and the other keeps its ghosts.

Positioned on the south bank of the river Tay in Fife, Ballinbreich estate became the property through marriage of the Leslie family around 1312, although records show that as early as 1160 the land originally belonged to Orm, son of Hugh of Abernethy.

The name Ballinbreich is derived from an ancient Celtic name and is a corruption of “Balan-breac”, meaning “town of trouts” – most appropriate with the castle overlooking the river Tay with its reputation for fishing.

The Leslies began to build a castle soon after they took over the estate, using an L-plan layout with a typical tower and internal stair at the re-entrant angle. A curtain wall was then built to create a rectangular courtyard.

The castle was considerably modified and extended in the 16th century. Mary Queen of Scots, on one of the many tours of her realm, visited the Leslies in 1565.


The later ‘manor house,’ as I’ll call it, is just visible at the far right-hand side of the photo above showing the cottages (it’s set back, and behind them).

This map (below) was on the internet, advertising woodland for sale, and I’m making use of it since the arrow points towards Ballinbreich.  That’s the River Tay running alongside.  There are further maps below to give you a better idea of where this is.  (We’re working backwards, from the specific to the general…sorry.)

22.6 Ballinbreich map

The following is an old Map of Fife parishes, 1855-1892, with ‘star’ markers at Kirkcaldy and Flisk.  I put those there, to show that my husband’s family comes from an area not-too-distant from my Scottish ancestors. We’ve been married for over forty years, but I’ve only discovered this recently. He is straight from ‘the old country’—born in Lochgelly, Scotland (Fife)—and my ancestry places my family origins, as far back as I can chart them at the moment, in Fife as well.

22.8 Fife Parish Map

Can’t see Lochgelly on this old parish map, but I believe it is only 11 km distant from Kirkcaldy, which you CAN see on the map. Lochgelly and Creich (where my great-great-great grandfather Peter Petrie is buried) are approximately 40 km apart.  You’ll see Dunbog (near Flisk) on this map, and can compare it to the previous map showing Ballinbreich.  Creich is adjacent to Dunbog and Flisk.  Peter and Jane Petrie’s children were born in the parish of Flisk…probably my great-great-grandfather included, although I don’t have his birth record for proof.

My husband and I met when he came to Canada. I was born in Toronto. Funny old world.

This map will show you where Fife is in Scotland…

22.9 Map of Scotland showing Fife

I haven’t been able to find a birth record for William (my great-great grandfather, b. 1819), nor for his sister Elizabeth, assuming she did in fact exist. However, I did find his sister Margaret, who would have been age 20 at the time of the Scottish census of 1841; his sister Christian/Christina (age 15 in 1841), and brother Alexander (age 17 at the time of the census in 1841). The 1841 census was time-stamped for June 6, 1841, so Alexander was a couple of months away from his 18th birthday. [Side note: The population of Scotland on 6 June 1841 was 2,620,184.]

Note that in the birth records below, Jane Thompson’s name is shown as either ‘Jane Thomson’ or ‘Jean Thomson.’ I believe that ‘Jean’ was the Scottish version of ‘Jane’ and that ‘Thomson’ was the more common spelling for ‘Thompson’ in Scotland.

Peter and Jane’s daughter Margaret (born two years after William) is first:

Margaret Petrie, b. Flisk, Fife, Jan 8, 1821
Birth record

Gender Female
Christening Date 14 Jan 1821
Christening Place FLISK, FIFE, SCOTLAND
Birth Date 08 Jan 1821
Father’s Name Peter Pettry
Mother’s Name Jane Thomson

Then we have Christian, a.k.a. Christina…

Christian Petrie, b. Jan 29, 1826
Birth record

Gender Female
Christening Date 29 Jan 1826
Christening Place FLISK, FIFE, SCOTLAND
Birth Date 03 Jan 1826
Father’s Name Peter Pettry
Mother’s Name Jean Thomson

And this is Alexander, later ‘of Carrowcarden’ and father of the first baronet Petrie:

Alexander Petrie
birth record

Gender Male
Christening Date 24 Aug 1823
Christening Place FLISK, FIFE, SCOTLAND
Birth Date 21 Aug 1823
Father’s Name Peter Pettry
Mother’s Name Jean Thomson

Since Margaret didn’t marry George Dow until later in the census year (the marriage was December 4, 1841), she may have been living away from home at the time of the Scottish census on June 6, 1841. Alexander was also not shown to be living with his parents at that time, although he wasn’t quite 18 years old.

We know where their brother, my great-great grandfather William was, however.

The 1841 census captured his whereabouts in early June of that year. He was married and living on Crichton Street in Dundee with his wife, Elizabeth, née Williamson. They’d left their two-year old daughter, Ann, behind with her grandparents at that time, as we saw from the census record for Peter and Jane Pettrie. Note that the Petrie surname is spelled differently by the census-taker for William and Elizabeth.

24 1841 Census close up, William and Elizabeth, Dundee

Yes, I realize that it was unnecessary to have stars beside their names, when there are only two names.  The stars are a carry-over from the full page of the census, and I was too lazy to remove them.

William’s occupation is shown as ‘Fish Agent’ and his and Elizabeth’s ages are shown to be 20. Again, the enumerators of the 1841 census had instructions to round down the ages of anyone over age 15 to the nearest five. William was born in 1819, so he may have been 22 in 1841, or near to it.

Below are a few late-19th century photos of Dundee, and the first one shows the Old Custom House on Crichton Street in 1876. Crichton was the street where William and Elizabeth were living in June of 1841.

24.5 Old Custom House, near Crichton St. in Dundee, 1876

To fulfill my obligations for using this image, I must provide the url:  http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1168411.

Another couple of 19th-century images of Dundee, in the vicinity of where William and Elizabeth Petrie were staying in 1841…

24.8 Old Dundee, late 19th century, Crichton St, note Lyall Fruiterer

Alexander Wilson was the photographer recording the changing face of buildings in Dundee from the 1870s to 1905.  The photo above is of Crichton Street, again, and shows a fish merchant and fruiterer business named Lyall. That name is a connection to the Petries, since Alexander Petrie, son of Peter Petrie (brother to my great-great grandfather William) married a Margaret Lyall (or Lyell). I don’t know if this is a relative of hers.

Remember that the census page showing William’s father Peter and his family included little Ann, who was their granddaughter (William and Elizabeth’s first child).

What was going on at this time for William and Elizabeth to have left their two-year-old daughter with her grandparents while they went to Dundee?  At the time of the 1841 census on June 6, 1841, Elizabeth was expecting another child, and very soon. William Jr. was due to make his arrival on June 14—just eight days later.

Leaving little Ann with William’s father and mother on the farm, where William’s 15-year-old sister Christian/Christina would be an extra help to his mother, must have been a necessity.

Also, given that Elizabeth would likely be in Dundee for the birth of William, I’m wondering whether she had female relatives there to help her…her mother or sisters.  That clue may be helpful for researching the Williamsons, although it’s probably a common name, and Dundee is a fair-sized place.  I suspect it will be difficult to identify which Williamsons are her family.

As the family Bible tells us, the births of William Jr. (1841), Jean (1843), and Alexander (my great-grandfather, born 1845) were all registered in the Parish of Dundee.  Ann’s birth was registered in the Parish of Erroll.  (The full Bible page is further down in this article.)

34 Petrie Family Bible page0001 - Copy-crop, Ann,Wm,Jean,Alex resized

The next ten years are a blank (for me), but William and Elizabeth continued to build on their family while, as I imagine, William increased his knowledge of the fish trade, as well as farming.

I have to say that this man, my great-great grandfather William, was a dynamo. No wonder he burnt out at age 65; he was indefatigable in the lifespan given to him, and possessed intelligence, boundless imagination and relentless drive.

We may not be of royal ancestry, but I suspect that when anyone presented obstacles to my great-great grandfather’s aims and ambitions, he would certainly have been a royal pain.

William and Elizabeth had two children (Ann and William Jr.) by 1841, four years into their marriage, and continued having a child approximately every two years thereafter: Jane was born two years after William Jr., in 1843, Alexander (my great-grandfather) was born two years later, in 1845, Elizabeth two years after Alexander, in 1847, and Peter two years after that, in 1849.

Then there was a three-year gap, likely because the family moved to Sligo, Ireland, in 1851. John was the next child born, and the first to be born in Ireland, in 1852. George was born in 1855, Thomas in 1857, and the last child, Jessie, was born in 1861.

So, six children were born to William and Elizabeth in Scotland, and four in Ireland, for a total of ten children. For so many to survive into adulthood was quite an accomplishment in those days. Infant mortality was quite high throughout the Victorian era, and young-adult mortality not much better.

As mentioned, William’s father, Peter, died in 1844 at Ballinbreich farm in Fife. He was likely somewhere around age 45 to 48.

I might make a few guesses here, at what might have transpired after Peter’s death.

First, Peter died January 12, 1844, and was buried in Creich churchyard on January 15, 1844—that part is NOT a guess. The death registry entry is below:

29.5 Peter Pettru death registry

I visited the Creich churchyard looking for Peter, but the church was a ruin, and many gravestones no longer bore legible inscriptions:

The ruins of the church are in the background of this first photo:

30 Creich churchyard

This next photo shows how badly the tombstones have deteriorated…

31 Creich churchyard tombstones

You can see the problem.  Unless my great-great-great grandfather pushed his stone aside and waved at me, there was no chance of finding him.

I have since written to the people who have the administration of Creich churchyard (Dunfermline Crematorium) to see if they can tell me which grave is his, and they answered that their records do not go back to 1844.

Since Peter died at Ballinbreich, he and wife Jane had apparently continued to live there in the three years between the 1841 census and his death in 1844.

Peter was in his mid-to-late 40s at the time of his death, so the likelihood is that he died of an illness—unless there had been some injury and infection, also possible.

We might also assume that if Peter was ill or injured prior to his death, he would have been unable to work to support the family. We know that daughter Christian/Christina was around age 18 in 1844, and that she did not marry Thomas Bruce until September 12 of 1851 (making her 25 years old at her marriage). She may have still been living at home during her father’s last illness (or injury?). Her sister, Margaret, had married George Dow in Dunbog, Fife, on December 4, 1841. Margaret would have been 20 years old at her marriage.

Dunbog is a small parish very near Glenduckie, and bordered on the east by Flisk and Creich, so Margaret did not live at any great distance from her parents’ home–between 5 to 9 miles—although no doubt it seemed a lot further at the time. The map below shows the location of Creich, where Peter Petrie is buried, and Dunbog, where his daughter Margaret and her husband, George Dow, lived.

32 Map showing Dunbog and Creich

I thought at first that since Ann (William and Elizabeth’s young daughter, b. 1839) was living with her grandparents, Peter and Jane, at the time of the 1841 census, there was a possibility that perhaps William and Elizabeth returned to the farm with their young family during Peter’s last illness. Their third child, Jane, was born in 1843, so three of Peter’s grandchildren were born before he died. I imagine it would have been difficult for Elizabeth to cope with three children four years and under in an age without disposable diapers and convenience foods—so having her mother-in-law and sister-in-law’s help would have been invaluable. Peter and Jane’s other children had not as yet started their families.

However, the family Bible indicates that William and Elizabeth’s children were born in Dundee, so it seems that they were not living with, or near to, Peter and Jane during those years. It’s around 12 and a half miles from Dundee to Creich, but with a water crossing (the Firth of Tay) that would have presented an additional obstacle. Perhaps Elizabeth had family in Dundee to help her?

33 map showing Dundee and Creich

Peter and Jane’s other son, Alexander (later ‘of Carrowcarden,’ my great-great-uncle, and the father of the first baronet Petrie), might have returned to the farm to help with supporting the family. He did not appear to have been living at home at the time of the 1841 census, although he was only 18 at that time. In 1844, at the time of his father’s death, he was probably not married. He likely married Margaret Lyell in 1845/6, since their first child was born in 1847. She was also named Ann, as was William and Elizabeth’s first daughter—which inclines me to think that possibly ‘Ann’ was an important name in their lineage…Peter or Jane’s mother, perhaps? It might be a clue to the earlier generation, whose identities are not presently known.

Alexander and Margaret continued to have their eight children at two-year intervals, for the most part.

Both of Peter’s sons, William (my great-great grandfather) and Alexander (my great-great uncle), would likely have become involved in their parents’ lives during this time, and no doubt benefitted from seeing the farming operation at Ballinbreich. Farming was an important skill for building their lives and fortunes in Sligo after emigration there.

I believe we can say that it must have become evident to Peter’s sons that continuing in their father’s occupation by working as farmers in an established collective would not advance their wealth or standing over time. Also, it may have been apparent, in that time and in that place, that openings in the fishing trade that William was interested in pursuing would have been thin on the ground, due to the fact that many preceding claims on resources would have existed in the more populated areas, like Dundee, at that time. The population of Dundee was around 56,000 in the early 1840’s.

My great-grandfather Alexander (who later went to Newfoundland) was born in Dundee in 1845, a year after his grandfather Peter died.

As I mentioned, the potato famine caused not only deaths but migrations from places in the north of Scotland and Ireland, so opportunities now existed for enterprising people to move into those depopulated areas.

The family migration from Scotland to Sligo, Ireland, in 1851, happened seven years after Peter’s death. I believe that those remaining seven years in Scotland were fundamental to the family’s success in Ireland after they left. William would have been 25 years old when his father died in 1844. His brother, Alexander, would have been 21. When the family left for Ireland seven years later, William would have been 32, and Alexander, 28.

They were both well-seasoned young men at that point in time, at the peak of their strength. Both were married, with families of their own, and their sisters Margaret and Christian were also married. (The mysterious youngest sister, Elizabeth, is nothing more than a question mark for me.)

This migration to another country was a big move, and pretty much all of the family went, including Peter Petrie’s widow, Jane (nee Thomson or Thompson). William and Elizabeth brought their six children (four more would be born in Ireland); Alexander and Margaret brought their three children (fourth child Jane was born in 1854—I assume in Ireland—and they would have another four children in Ireland); Christian (Christina) Petrie, who married Thomas Bruce in 1851, had four children in Ireland; Margaret Petrie, who married George Dow in 1841, had at least three children in Ireland, the youngest born in 1857. It seems likely that Margaret and George Dow would have had other children in their first sixteen years of marriage, but I don’t have a record of them.

This migration of the Petrie family ‘en masse’ seems to indicate that Peter’s early death drew the family together. Their fortunes and their futures likely became even more tightly bound to one another while they assisted their parents, so that when the proposal was made (by William, would be my guess) to leave Scotland for Ireland, they all left together.

The following is a page from the family Bible, recording births and birthplaces of various family members.  (That’s my own scribbling on the left-hand side of the photocopy.)

34 Petrie Family Bible page0001

I suspect that the handwriting on this page is largely that of my great-great grandfather, William Petrie (b. 1819). Compare the written letter ‘P’ in the Bible record to the letter ‘P’s’ on these signatures from legal documents:

35 signature one, William Petrie

36 Signature two, William Petrie

The births recorded on the Bible page are these:

Ann Pettrie Born 1839 August 19 (?) Registered in the Parish of Erroll
William Pettre Born 1841, June 14th Registered in the Parish of Dundee
Jean Pettrie Born 1843 Mar (?) 7th, Registered in the Parish of Dundee
Alexander Pettrie Born 1845 21st Feb Registered in the Parish of Dundee
Elizabeth Pettrie Born 1847 Registered in the Parish of Erroll
Peter Petrie Born Erroll 1849
John Petrie Born 17 November 1852 Sligo Ireland 1853 (s/b 1852)
George Petrie Born 7 May, 1855 at Townfortis Farm (near?) Sligo Ireland
Thomas Petrie Born 30 August at Townfortis Farm (near?) Sligo Ireland 1857

Now, a RECAP…

Peter Petrie, parentage yet to be determined. Born ca 1796; died 1844.
Agricultural labourer, Ballinbreich Farm, County Flisk, Scotland

Peter married Jane (Thomson) Petrie, (they were my 3x great-grandparents)
Their FIVE children were:
William my great-great grandfather (b. 1819, married Elizabeth Williamson)
Margaret (b. 1821, married George Dow)
Alexander (b. 1823, married Margaret Lyell)
Christian/Christina (b. 1826, married Thomas Bruce)
Elizabeth (b. 1827?)

William and Elizabeth (Williamson) Petrie, (my great-great grandparents)
Their TEN children were:
Ann (b. 1839, married George Thompson)
William Jr. (b. 1841–he wrote the letter to Georgina–married Elizabeth Jane Kelly)
Jane/Jeanie (b. 1843, married Peter Robertson)
Alexander (my great-grandfather, b. 1845. married Georgina Campbell, née Bain)
Elizabeth (b. 1847, married George Dewar)
Peter (b. 1849, married Susanna Higgins)
John (b. 1852, married Belinda Anna Taylor)
George (b. 1855, married Harriet Ann Couser)
Thomas (b. 1857, did not marry, died in Australia)
Jessie (b. 1861, married Arthur Evans Patterson)

Alexander and Georgina (Bain) Petrie, my great-grandparents
Their SEVEN children:
William Thomas (b. 1875, married Jessie Soper)
George Alexander (b. 1877, died very young)
John Albert (my grandfather, b. 1878, married Annie Emmeline Bartlett)
Samuel Kelly (b. 1880, died very young)
Ethel Bain (b. 1884, married Arthur Gager)
‘Lizzie’ (b. ? died very young)
Annie Daisy (b. 1887, died age 25 in 1912)

William Sr., “William of Rosserk,” born in 1819, started out as a ‘fish agent’ as noted in the 1841 census, when he was 22 years old, and at that time about to have a second child, William Jr., (who wrote the letter to ‘Georgy’ many years later).

When, within the next few years after the 1841 census, his father Peter became ill (or injured?) William may have returned to his father’s home frequently, to help his parents. Since his children were mostly born in Dundee, however, it seems that he did not go to live at his parents’ home during this time. His younger brother, Alexander, may have been in a better position to help them, since he was unattached at that time. Still, no doubt William was involved in what was happening at Ballinbreich farm just prior to his father’s death, and he may have learned the farming skills he used with such success later in Ireland at that point in time. Alternatively, he may have learned his farming skills in his early life, since he would have been raised on the farm. My guess, however, is that the farm chores in his early life would have been just that—chores–and that any original thinking on farming and land development would have happened later.

William and his wife Elizabeth had another four children in Scotland after 1841, at two-year intervals. They already had Ann (1839) and William (1841). Jane or Jeanie (1843) came along next. These were all the grandchildren that Peter would see before his death in 1844.

My great-grandfather Alexander was the next child born to William and Elizabeth, in February of 1845. His grandfather Peter had died the year before his birth.

Then Elizabeth was born in 1847, and Peter in 1849. That was all of the children born to William and Elizabeth in Scotland—six of the ten. The other four would be born in Ireland.

There was a three-year gap after William and Elizabeth’s son Peter, since this period marked the migration of the family to Ireland.

John was the first child born to them in Sligo, in 1852. George followed him in 1855, and Thomas in 1857. The last child born to William and Elizabeth was Jessie, in 1861.

Taking the family to Sligo vicinity from Scotland appears to have been a fortuitous decision. There were no doubt some difficult times in the beginning, but William Sr. was not long in gaining a foothold and making his presence known.

We’ve come full circle at this point, to where William started fishing operations in Sligo area, and rubbed the local gentry up the wrong way. I’ve covered his career at the beginning of this article.

Seems a bit back-to-front, I’ll grant you! Hopefully you can piece it all together.

I’ll just review my great-great-grandfather William’s family at this point, with a bit more information on each, and then take you to the end-stage of his life.

Again, William of Rosserk (Sr.) was born in 1819, likely in the Parish of Flisk, in Fife. He married Elizabeth Williamson, b. ca 1821, on September 2, 1837, when he was 18 and she was around 16, and these are their 10 children:

Anne, born (Aug 19?) 1839 in the Parish of Erroll, Scotland, and died in 1866. She married George Thompson, and had two daughters; Elizabeth was born in Sligo, 1862, and Christina was born in 1864. The girls were very young at the time of their mother’s death in 1866. She would have been age 27.  (Childbirth a factor?)

William Jr, b. (June 19, 1841) 1841, Parish of Dundee, Scotland, d. Nov. 22, 1894 (of Bright’s disease). He married Elizabeth Jane Kelly, daughter of Dr. Samuel Kelly, on March 31, 1861. Their children were Margaret Jane, b. 1862; Elizabeth, b. 1864; Alexander, b. 1868; Anne, b. 1869; Christina, b. 1871; John, b. 1873; Samuel George, b. 1876; and Jessie Ethel, b. 1878.

Jane (or ‘Jeanie’),b. April 27, 1843, Parish of Dundee, Scotland. She married Peter Robertson, and, according to a note in the family Bible, “Jeanie…Died at Towneyfortis, the residence of her father, on Wednesday, 29th July, 1868, at half past four o’clock in the afternoon, also her infant baby Elizabeth Robertson died on Thursday morning the 30th July, 1868, aged ten weeks. The mother aged 25 years.” My understanding is that mother and baby daughter were buried together, having died within 24 hours of one another.

Alexander (my great-grandfather), b. February 21, 1845, Parish of Dundee, Scotland, d. Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, July 29, 1892. He married Georgina Campbell, née Bain (b. 1846, d. May 31, 1924), of Wick, Caithness, Scotland on March 31, 1875, in the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland. They had seven children: William Thomas, b. 1875, d, 1946, George Alexander, b. Jan. 24, 1877, died in infancy, sometime after May 27, 1877; John Albert, b. Dec. 22, 1878, d. 1956 (my grandfather); Samuel Kelly, b. Sept. 22, 1880, died in infancy, sometime after October 31, 1880—he and Ethel were both christened by Rev. J. Curling); Ethel Bain, b. 1884, d. 1932, age 47 or 48; ‘Lizzie’, b. ?, died in infancy; and Annie Daisy, b. 1887, d. 1912, age 25.

Elizabeth, b. (Aug.?) 1847, Parish of Errol, Scotland; d. 1872, age 25. Married George Dewar, and had one child, Annie Jannetta Ness (b. Mar. 4?, 1872). As we can see, but without having exact dates, Elizabeth died the same year her baby was born. It may well be that Elizabeth died of complications of childbirth. Her sister Anne died in 1866 at age 27; her sister Jeannie died 1868, age 25. While Anne’s death does not associate her death with childbirth, it seems that Anne had her two daughters two years apart: 1862 and 1864. That she died two years after her last child may indicate that there had been an unsuccessful birth of a third child.

Peter, b. (Aug.?) 1849, Parish of Erroll, Scotland, d. 1907, Ballina. Married Susanna Bruce, nee Higgins, widow of his first cousin, Thomas Bruce, in Ballina. They had eight children. Susanna also had two children from her first marriage to Thomas Bruce. I’ll refer you to the family tree for their children.

*Within the next year or so after Peter’s birth, the family moved to Sligo, Ireland, and the first child born there is John…

John, b. November 17, 1852, Sligo, Ireland, married Belinda (‘Bella’) Anna Taylor, 1878; one child, Elizabeth Jessie, b. 1875; he died at Rosserk, July 29, 1882, age 28. His newspaper birth announcement is below. I cannot find a Petrie relative with the name ‘John’, so either there was a relative on his mother’s side (the Williamsons) named John–or perhaps (and this may be a bit fanciful), John was named for the street on which they lived at the time of his birth?

37 Elizabeth Petrie birth announcement for John Nov 17, 1852

When one is welcoming one’s seventh child shortly after arriving in a new country, perhaps not only the sparsity of family names is a factor, but also one’s diminished attention to such details.  MIGHT one look out the window at the street sign and think that that’s as good a name as any for one’s latest offspring?

John is of particular interest to me, since my great-grandfather Alexander named his third son, ‘John Albert.’ And that third son of Alexander and Georgina, born in December of 1878, was my grandfather. So I think we know where the name ‘John’ came from, but ‘Albert’? Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, died in 1861, and coincidentally was born in 1819, the same year as Alexander’s father William, but I can’t believe that that’s where the name came from. Georgina’s brothers were James, David and Donald, and her father was George, so ‘Albert’ did not come from the Bain side. The source for ‘Albert’ is yet to be discovered.  Perhaps they just liked the name.

I don’t have John’s cause of death, but it’s perplexing that he died so early, at age 28. His three sisters dying in their 20’s makes sense, sadly, given the mortality rate for child-bearing women, but John’s cause of death I just don’t know.

George, b. (May 7?) 1855, Towneyfortis (or Tonafortis), Sligo, Ireland; d. 1927, age 72. He married Harriet Ann Couser (1855-1947), and most of our Irish cousins in Sligo vicinity today descend from George and Harriet. All their children were born in Ballina, and there was George Norman, b. 1899; Robert William, b. 1900; Jessie, b. 1902; Arthur Patterson, b. 1904; Alexander, b. 1906; and Joseph Couser, b. 1908.

Thomas, b. (Aug 30?) 1857, Townafortes (or Tonafortis), Sligo, Ireland, died in Ballarat, Australia, (near Melbourne), in 1927, at age 70. He did not marry. This is the brother who supposedly held my great-grandfather Alexander’s Sligo property in his name, for the benefit of Alexander’s family. Since Alexander and Georgina’s first son was named ‘William Thomas,’ I think we can say that this brother of Alexander’s was important to him.

Jessie, b. (May 24?) 1861, Sligo, Ireland; d. Sept 30, 1943. She married Captain Arthur Evans Patterson. As far as I can tell, her one and only foray into motherhood resulted in the birth of Eileen Lily Patterson in January of 1894. I believe that little Eileen died in infancy that same year. Jessie had no more children, perhaps fortunately for her, given that all three of her sisters likely died of childbirth-related causes in their 20’s. She lived until September 30, 1943, dying at age 83. Perhaps not having any more pregnancies bought her over 50 years more life than her sisters had.

Did those young women, marrying in the mid-19th century, have a sense that their funerals might follow their weddings by not very many years? The mortality statistics for young mothers tell us that that is not an overly dramatic statement to make. I don’t think that it would have been necessary for those young women to see the data. No doubt the evidence of risk was all around them…in the experiences of their friends, acquaintances, and relatives.

An interesting coincidence is that three of William and Elizabeth’s children died on July 29th, in different years:

Jane (Jeanie) died on July 29, 1868 (age 25). As mentioned, her baby daughter Elizabeth died the next morning, and they were buried together.
John died on July 29, 1882 (age 28), “leaving behind him one daughter, Elizabeth Jessie, aged 3 years and 11 months”
Alexander (my great-grandfather) died on July 29, 1892 at age 47, exactly 10 years after his brother John.

Thomas is an interesting character. As mentioned above, he had emigrated to Australia in his 40’s. I’ve been trying to find the exact date that he emigrated, and have used the 1901 and 1911 Irish census information to narrow down the date. Thomas was living with brother George and his family in 1901, and was not married. His birth year in the census is given as ‘1861’—which is incorrect by four years. Thomas is not shown in the 1911 census, as far as I can see, so I suspect he left in the intervening years.

I found a record of a Thomas Petrie on a ship’s passenger list on December 4, 1903, which showed promise for being him because it was the years between 1901 and 1911, and I’m inclined to think that if Thomas was living with George and his family in 1901, he would likely have emigrated not too long after that. (Bunking-in with a brother and his family—which included a two-year-old, a one-year-old and another baby ‘on the way’, would have gotten old very quickly.)

The ‘Thomas Petrie’ on the ship’s list was age 40, if that document can be believed. Our Thomas’s age in 1903 would have been 46. A further problem which might say that this is not our Thomas Petrie, is that the ‘40’ is listed in the ‘married’ column, under the ‘Scotch’ heading. It’s possible that his age was approximated, as ages tended to be in census records and so forth, and it is possible that since Thomas’s parents and the majority of his siblings were born in Scotland, he might have made an assumption about his birthplace without knowing for sure.  (He was born in Ireland). When you’re one of 10 children, your own details may get lost in the shuffle. The ‘married’ status doesn’t work, however, unless being a married man gave you preferential treatment when emigrating, and Thomas tailored his status to his circumstances.

If this is another Thomas Petrie, who is Scottish and married, we don’t see a wife or any family listed with him as passengers. It could be that this other Thomas Petrie wanted to get established in Australia before bringing his family over (reasonable enough).

Therefore, the fact that another Thomas Petrie was going to Melbourne around the same time as our Thomas is either a coincidence, or some of the information on the ship’s list is wrong–accidentally or deliberately—and this IS our Thomas. The ship’s port of departure being London might be a factor against this being our Thomas, although ‘Farmer’ listed as occupation lends support to it.

The Petrie family ran farming operations in Ireland, as well as the fishery, and ‘Farmer’ tends to be listed as their occupation in official records. Thomas’s father, William, who was a fishery owner and manager, ship-owner, real-estate developer, land reclaimer, farmer, local politician, etcetera, has an occupation recorded on his death certificate as ‘farmer.’

That the Petries were prominent in farming is evident enough.

Here’s Thomas’s uncle Alexander of Carrowcarden’s testimonial for a plough, published in The Connaught Watchman newspaper on January 3, 1863:

38 Alexander Petrie testimonial for plough, Jan 3 1863, Connaught Watchman

[Scurmore, Ballina, 2nd September, 1860
Dear Sir—The No. 7 plough I got from you last March is as good a general plough as I have ever held. It is light on the Horse and in the hand, and have to say it is superior to any Scotch Plough I have ever had, in turning of Turnip, Potato, or Stubble soils, –Yours truly, ALEXANDER PETRIE]

The testimonial is dated September 1860, even though printed in the January 3, 1863, edition of the newspaper. I saw this same endorsement by Alexander Petrie many times in different editions of the newspaper over a span of years. I guess that until he made a move to withdraw the endorsement, it would continue to run!

When I first looked online for Thomas Petrie in connection with Australia, I found another, famous Thomas Petrie (1831-1910), who appears to have been a 19th century “Crocodile Dundee.” This is from a bio: “Accepted by the Aboriginals as a friend, he was in constant demand as a messenger or companion for exploration expeditions.” http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/petrie-thomas-tom-4395

However, there’s NO connection between that Thomas Petrie and our Thomas Petrie.

Our Thomas would have lived in Australia for over 20 years before dying in Ballarat (just west of Melbourne) in 1927. His age on his death certificate shows as 72, but in 1927, Thomas would have been 70 (born 1857). You can see the problem with records. Accuracy is not always a feature.

I don’t have much information (in fact I have NO information) about Thomas’s life in Australia, but am hopeful that something will eventually be found.

The other brother to have emigrated to a far-flung locale, was my great-grandfather, Thomas’s brother, Alexander.

He would have been only 22 years old when he was sent out to the Bay of Chaleur, New Brunswick to set up the first North American base for the Sligo Petrie fishery.

In the early days of my research I wasted some time searching through ship passenger lists to see when Alexander and Georgina might have travelled across the ocean. As I now realize, Alexander would have crossed the Atlantic on the ships owned by the Petrie fishery—as would Georgina when she first travelled to Newfoundland.

I don’t have all the details on the fleet of ships owned by the family in those days, but here’s mention of one of them. It was called The Hibernian (mis-named The Hibernia in the article below):

The Sligo Independent has the following notice
regarding the enterprise of a gentleman who has
now a close business connection with Wick:–
Our enterprising fellow townsman William Petrie,
Esq.—now one of our principal merchants—has
added to the shipping of our port, by the pur-
chase of a splendid barque, called ‘The Hibernia.’
This vessel was launched in October last, and
classed A., for seven years. She is 124 feet
in length, with a beam of twenty-five feet—is
coppered, and registered for 325 tons. The
Hibernia is to hail from Sligo, but likely will
not be seen in our harbour until summer, as she
will first go from Liverpool to North America.
We congratulate Mr. Petrie on his success in trade
and on his having added this new and handsome
vessel to the several others he at present owns.
[March 5, 1874]

The Hibernian was also used to transport passengers, as we can see from the following voyages published in the Newfoundland Express, of October and November, 1875:

Newfoundland Express
Sept 1875-July 1876
Oct 5, 1875
Passengers – Per Hibernian from Liverpool – Mr. J. MURRAY and wife, Mrs. ROBERTSON and two children, Mrs. PATTERSON and two children, Miss HENLEY, Rev. P. HOLLAND, Mr. WARREN, and 2 in steerage.
For Halifax – Mr. J.W. PHILLIPS, wife and child, Mrs. BRYDEN and child, Miss LEWIS, Rev. T. HARRIS, Rev. Mr. MILLIGAN, Hon. J.J. ROGERSON, Messrs. ADAMS, LOUIS, McLEAN and 26 in steerage.

[I note a ‘Mrs. Robertson’ and a ‘Mrs. Patterson’ on the passenger list and Alexander’s sisters Jeanie and Jessie were married to a Robertson and a Patterson, respectively, but this seems to have been coincidence. Jeanie was not alive in 1875, and Jessie did not have two children.]

Nov, 1875
Per Hibernian from Halifax – Mrs. BUCHANAN, Messrs. W.H. ROSS, T.E. McDOUGALL, A. RUSSELL, E. SAMPSON, John PRIM, S.A. EARLE, G.R. CARSON, G. MORTON, J.A. VAUGH, James McDONALD and 20 in steerage.
Per Hibernian for Liverpool – Mrs. DUDER and Miss DUDER, Mrs. BOWDEN, Miss ROBINSON, Miss Selina ROBINSON, Miss E. ROBINSON, Messrs. G. BOWRING, C.F. NICHOLLE, W.P. MUNN, James J. GRIEVE, W.H. BURNETT, J.E.B. LLOYD, BENDELL, Henry BOND and 2 in steerage.

No doubt transatlantic transportation was a sideline to supplement income. If the ship had to cross the ocean anyway, and there was room on board for people, it makes sense that they would take paying passengers as well.

The Petrie Fishery was operating in Newfoundland at this point in time (1875/76), primarily in the herring fishery, from what I can determine. But everything went wrong in a rather large way, not too many years later.

What seems to have sunk them, ultimately, was the inability to repay the large loan (£3000 according to the Freeman’s Journal newspaper article from November 24, 1882 below, but £2200 (or at least this much still outstanding) according to William Petrie Jr.’s letter to Georgina two years later), and having to sell property to reconcile the debt with the Bank of Ireland.

40 Wm Petrie Estate Sale, the Freeman's Journal, Nov 24, 1882

William Petrie Senior would have been around age 63 at this point in time (1882). William Junior would have been age 41. My great-grandfather Alexander would have been 37. They were the three principals in the Petrie fishery business.

This article is from February 27, 1883, and published in The Freeman’s Journal

39 Auction article Freeman's Journal, Feb 27 1883

In the High Court of Justice in Ireland
Chancery Division,
Land Judges
Sale by Auction
At The Court House In the Town of SLIGO
In the Matter of the Estate of
WILLIAM PETRIE, Sen.; or WM PETRIE, Jun, or one of them
Owners Ex parte
The Governor and Company of the Bank of Ireland,
In Two Lots, At the
On SATURDAY, the 3rd day of March, 1883,
Beginning at the hour of One o’clock in the afternoon

Lot 1
One undivided moiety, being the moiety of the owner, William Petrie, junior, [?] [and?] in houses and premises situate on the south side of Wine Street in the town of Sligo, parish of St. John, barony of Carbury, and county of Sligo, both moieties containing in area [???] or thereabouts, [??] measure, and held under lease dated the 27th day of July, 1787, made between Andrew Todd, therein described as of Sligo, in the county of Sligo, apothecary, of the one part and Archibald Campbell therein also described as of Sligo aforesaid, merchant, of the other part, for the term of 70 years, from 1st of November, 1787. at the yearly rent of £39 10s 6d, late currency, equivalent to [£28 8s 2d?] sterling, [?? ??] all taxes, payable half yearly on every 1st day of May and 1st day of November; but the purchaser will have such right and benefit of contribution in respect of a moiety of the said rent; and all costs and expenses oc-
casioned by the nonpayment of the same, out of and against the moiety of the said premises not for sale
herein as at present exist and as is just.

The net annual rental or moiety for sale herein amounts to £28 8s 2d. N.B.—Borough rates and taxes are not taken into account in the above £28 8s 2d. The Government valuation of the entire premises in
lease is £52 10s

Lot 2
Part of the Ordnance Townland of Srahanarry (?), situate in the parish of Kilcommon, barony of [??] and county of Mayo, held in fee simple, and containing 2a [??] or thereabouts, statute measure, with the dwellinghouse and offices erected and now standing thereon, and let to one tenant at the yearly rent of £15 payable half-yearly on 1st May and 1st November, under agreement to expire 1st May, 1890.
Date this 5th day of February, 1883.

Lot 1.
Wine street (in which these premises are situate) is the most important street in Sligo. The extensive
frontage commanded is very valuable, especially with a view to new buildings.
Lot 2.
There is a very neat slated cottage on this lot; also stabling for three horses, and other suitable accommodation. The premises are situate close to the post town of Bangor Erris, on the county road from Balinullet (?) to Castlebar, and are at present used in connection with “The Bangor Salmon Fisheries,” and comprise an ice-house, fish-house, &c. Fishing, shooting (grouse, &c), and sporting abounds, and can be had in the immediate neighbourhood.

Private offers will be received by E. H. de Moleyns, solicitor, Bank of Ireland, Dublin, up to the 24th day of February, 1883, and, if approved of, submitted to the Judge.
In the event of private-offers not being received, and the public auction taking place, the biddings as taken at said auction by the auctioneer will be submitted to the Right honourable Judge Orsby at his Court, Chancery Division, Land Judges, Four Courts, Inns quay, Dublin, on THURSDAY, the 8th day of March, 1833, at the hour of 11 o’clock in the forenoon, for approval or otherwise as to said Judge may seem proper, without further notice to any person.

For rentals and further particulars apply at the Registrar’s Office, Chancery Division, Land Judges, Four Courts, Inns quay, Dublin; to the Agents, Bank of Ireland, Sligo and Ballina; to said
The Auctioneer,
Or to
E. H. De Moleyns, Solicitor having carriage of proceedings, Bank of Ireland, Dublin.

The last couple of years of William Petrie Senior’s life must have been personally disappointing, after so much enterprise and success. The business he’d worked so hard to build into a large and profitable concern was auctioned off to pay a puzzling debt (puzzling for me—what was it for?) to the bank.

He had, according to the 1882 newspaper article above, wished to remain in possession of a portion of the premises destined for auction, by virtue of a rental agreement with sons William and Alexander signed on October 28, 1881. This property consisted of a yard and offices “necessary for the working of the fishery.” The judge disallowed his continuing to rent for less than what the rental should be for that property—and so the property had to be included in the sale to offset the debt.

William Sr. appealed on the basis that the increase in property value was due to his own efforts, but it was again disallowed.

This information seems to indicate that William Junior and Alexander were the principals in charge of the business and property at this point in time—although Alexander, I suspect, in name only, since he’d been living in Newfoundland for many years.

William Sr., while being a part-owner in the business, was a “tenant under William Petrie Jr.”

William Sr. would have been 62 years old in 1881, when he signed the rental agreement to be his son’s tenant. Perhaps he’d relinquished control of the business to his sons; or, perhaps more accurately, son William—since Alexander was running a hotel in Newfoundland at this time.

I don’t have the year of the loan—or loans—but is it likely that William Sr. would have obtained financing on such a large scale from the bank even in his 50’s? William Jr. said in his letter to Georgina that he was ‘getting up in years’ at age 53. William Sr. was in his 60’s when the business insolvency occurred, and he must have been aware for some time that his working years were coming to an end. Alexander had been away in Bay of Chaleur and Newfoundland for the better part of 15 years at this point.

William Sr. probably saw himself working away in the fishery just enough to sustain himself in his later years. I don’t know that he was able to do this, since the judge ruled that his premises were to be included in the auction. In any case, it seems that his focus turned to farming, as can be seen in some petty court session accounts in the newspaper after this time.

These were from February of 1883, and were complaints by William Sr. against:
1. John McNulty, whose 5 head of cattle trespassed on his turnips on Jan 2, 1883.
2. Thomas Knight, whose 9 sheep trespassed on his turnips on Jan 26, 1883.

These were from January 19, 1883, and were complaints by William Sr. against:
1. Martin Gallagher, whose ‘foal and ass’ trespassed on his clover on Jan 10, 1883
2. John McNulty, whose 5 head of cattle trespassed on his turnips on Jan 8, 1883
3. John Wells, whose cattle trespassed on his turnips; 3 head of cattle on Jan 11, 1883, and 2 head of cattle on Jan 13, 1883

Apparently William Sr.’s crop of turnips was under pretty much continual threat throughout January of 1883. Even with the large reversal in his fortunes recently behind him, he was not the man to sit back and let his neighbours’ animals run amok, threatening his remaining livelihood.

William Sr. was also vigilant for fishing violations, which evidently continued to be a concern for him, he being a prominent fishery manager and member of the Harbour Commission for many years:
This first set of William Sr.’s fishery complaints was from December, 1883, against:
1. Pat Connor, for attempting to catch fish in spawning beds
2. John Devins, for the same offense
3. Pat Connor, again, but for using a spear for fishing

These are December, 1882, complaints William Petrie Sr. brought against:
1. Pat Kilmartin (?) for unlawfullly using a gaff for the purpose of taking salmon in the Drumcliff River.
2. Matthew Costello for the same offense.
3. Thomas Coggins for trying to catch salmon in the spawning bed in the closed season.

This complaint (below) was in July of 1883, and it was brought by William Petrie Sr. against Thomas Coggins,

“the occupier of a certain watercourse constructed for the purpose of conveying water from the river Drumcliffe, same being a river frequented by salmon, neglected to keep and preserve in constant repair at the points respectively of the divergence of said watercourse from return to said river lattice of legal construction in said watercourse extending across the whole width of said watercourse from the bottom of the bed or silt thereof respectively to the level of the highest water or flood waters contrary to the [?] in such case made and provided 21st June ’83 at Collinsford.”

I suppose he continued with his farming and fishery interests, until he was struck down the following year, on September 22, 1884, aged 65, by what must have been a massive heart attack, killing him instantly. While it was sudden, it was not entirely unexpected, according to his obituary (below).

I don’t know if his wife, my great-great grandmother Elizabeth (nee Williamson) was alive at the time of William’s death, and cannot find her death record. She is not mentioned in the obituary notice, but none of the family are.

There’s some debate about this entry in the family Bible for an ‘Elizabeth Petrie’…

Petrie Family Bible page0003-crop ELIZABETH d 1876

This might be the elusive Elizabeth, sister to my great-great grandfather William of Rosserk, for whom I have no other documentation supporting her existence–OR (as I am inclined to think), it might be Elizabeth (née Williamson), WIFE of William of Rosserk, and therefore my great-great grandmother.  There is no other mention of Elizabeth, my great-great grandmother, in the family Bible.

My great-great grandfather William Petrie of Rosserk was predeceased by four of his ten children, Ann (d. 1866), Jeanie (d. 1868), Elizabeth (d, 1872), and John (d. 1882)—all of whom died in their twenties.  If the above entry in the family Bible was William’s wife, Elizabeth (and not his sister), she would have died after her three daughters (in 1876), and before her son, John.  No cause of death provided in the Bible, but losing three of her four daughters in the ten years prior to her own death would be cause enough, I should think.

I believe William’s obituary was published in The Sligo Independent newspaper in the last week of September, 1884. It was provided to me by a department specializing in Sligo heritage at the library in Sligo, and unfortunately did not show a specific source or date:

A brief telegram which reached Sligo on Tuesday last announced the sudden death of the above-named gentleman at his Mayo residence, Rossirk. Although he had been ill for some time, the announcement of his death created a melancholy impression in Sligo, where he had been so well known as a man of much enterprise and industry. He brought with him to Sligo from Scotland a large amount of sagacity and knowledge of certain departments which were eminently useful in developing important resources of our country. With our fisheries his name will always be connected, for, as lessee, he worked them well, and developed them to the fullest extent. He was a man of indomitable courage and perseverance, and always personally superintended the work he considered necessary to be done. He was very extensively engaged in the Scotch herring fishery, and imported large quantities into this country from his place in Wick. He was a fine specimen of his country, and possessed an open heart and an obliging disposition. Like all earnest, hard-working men, his physical capacities gave way before the allotted time. He was formerly a very active member of our Harbour Board, and was extensively connected with the shipping interests.

The Ballina Herald, referring to his death, says very truly he was a man of energetic character, and adds:–“Sligo did not afford him a sufficient scope for his energies, and he engaged extensively in fishing operations in Mayo, taking the fishings of Carrowmore Lake and other parts of Erria, and latterly some in the upper waters of the Moy. Many years ago he took on lease from the late Sir Arthur (then Colonel) Gore the lands of Rossirk, at the time mostly bog and waste, and a pioneer in those parts in the scientific treatment of land, he made literally what was a ‘desert’ to ‘blossom as the rose.’ He was before the steam plough, but his broad wheeled carts, made specially to go over the bogs, and his implements of reclamation, also made specially, were for years the wonder and admiration of surrounding farmers, and the condition of Rossirk at the present moment is a monument of his patient, persevering skill and workmanship. He spent as much of his time as he could spare from his other avocations at Rossirk, directing the farm work there, and there he died, on Monday morning last, being called away in a very sudden manner—while dressing he fell down, and was taken up dead. But this was not altogether unexpected, as he had been advised that he might at any time die from heart disease. Not later than Monday week he attended a meeting of the Conservators of the Ballina district, and took a very prominent part in their discussions. Many in both counties will regret the death of Mr. Petrie, and will remember him as a good friend, a wise adviser, and an example of industry and perseverance.”

Took place on Wednesday last. The remains were brought from Rossirk to Sligo, and were deposited in the family vault in the Sligo Cemetery. A large number of persons from Sligo went out to pay the last tribute of respect to the deceased, and the funeral cortege was a long one. Mr. Robert Maveely had charge of the funeral arrangements, which he carried out in his usual faultless manner.

And so, with my dynamic great-great grandfather William Petrie of Rosserk’s demise, ends Part 2 of our family history.

I hadn’t expected to need to divide this into three parts, but there’s just so much information, and I’m struggling with what to use and what to put aside.

Part 3 will take us back to Newfoundland, and re-focus on Alexander and Georgina and their family.  I will also hope to include something about the failure of the Petrie Newfoundland fishery, and the losses of ships–assuming the archivists get a bit more indexing of those records completed.

Hail the new, ye lads and lasses

It’s New Year’s Day, 2018, and sunny and cold in southern Ontario. I’m sitting here reflecting upon the occasion, and wondering whether it deserves any special notice.

Is there a clear line of demarcation between the year 2017 and the year 2018? Can the previous twelve months be lumped together, tied up with string, and put aside? Can we say, “2017 is finished its run—CUT—it’s a wrap”?

If it was largely a bad year (as I’m inclined to think, from my personal perspective), 2018 supposedly presents a blank slate, a fresh opportunity for good things to happen.

Well, it’s not a bad thought, as thoughts go, but I’m not so sure it’s true. Still we might just use this occasion to be a little reflective, as well as forward-looking, and it never hurts to work up some improvements. I don’t like ‘New Year’s Resolutions,’ however. They’re a little too self-important, and potentially dangerous.

There are loads of New Year’s quotes from famous people circulating on the internet at the moment. Here’s one:

“One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this — To rise above the little things.” — John Burroughs, American Naturalist & Essayist

Okay, John, define “little things.” What are you doing when you rise above them? Are you ignoring nagging little problems or nagging little people? Beneath your notice are they? Granted that we can’t spend all our time fussing over inconsequential things, but this statement is a little too broad to be of much use to me.

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.” — Anaïs Nin, French-Cuban Author

Yes, Anaïs, I agree with that… New Year’s resolutions have always seemed a pointless exercise to me. If something is a good idea to do on January 1, it was probably also a good idea to do on December 27. Why wait? Also, if it’s something you really don’t want to do, and you make it a key feature of these beginning days of the year, it may not survive for long. And since failure creates a certain mindset that can spill over into other areas of your life, it’s perhaps best not to risk setting yourself up for that.

“New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” — Mark Twain, American Author & Humorist

Exactly, Mark. I would say do NOT give a resolution any power over your happiness and self-respect. If something is a good idea to do, just get on with it at an appropriate time.

“From New Year’s on the outlook brightens; good humor lost in a mood of failure returns. I resolve to stop complaining.” — Leonard Bernstein, American Conductor, Composer, Author

If you don’t like something, Leonard, you have my permission to COMPLAIN. A ‘mood of failure’ sounds a bit gloomy and depressive, however. Never lose your sense of humour if you can avoid it. That is vitally important.

I’ve never shied away from giving misfortunes or problems a cold, hard stare. I moan about things that are frustrating or annoying, with a view to changing them for the better, if possible. If there’s ANY humour in it, I use that to keep me buoyant for the fight. You can’t let things get you down. If they ARE getting you down, you need to walk away and let someone else carry the ball.

Some people run from what they perceive as negativity. They don’t want to confront the bad, even if the bad must be identified, acknowledged and addressed in order to promote the good.

Does identifying bad things poison our lives in some way? Maybe temporarily, since there are a host of unpleasant feelings accompanying it. However, perhaps we can consider that our efforts to improve things will benefit others. We are rarely the sole sufferers when things are not right, and sometimes the weaker members of society do not have the energy to fight the wrongs.

I tend to find the humour in things when I write about them—when I’m moaning about them to somebody else. Writing is cathartic and restorative for some of us. If I can see a humorous aspect to something, I give that full play—not to make light of it, but people will still get the point you’re making if it’s an important one, and it will be an easier pill to swallow.

The problem happens when someone is constantly bewailing some grievance, and doing nothing more than that. It gets wearing. And if the only positive action that’s looked for is typing ‘Amen’ and clicking ‘Share’ on Facebook, it’s just an invitation from one person to another to wallow in misery alongside them. (I might temper that remark by saying that perhaps there has been some ‘consciousness raising’ done as a result of it, which might be applied to future opportunities.)

The flip side of useless moaning is the ‘Pollyanna’ attitude—which is worse than useless. For these people, all is perpetual sunshine and light. A mush-brained, oozing sentimentalism, absent of any critical thought or intelligence, is not just useless, but irritating. I’m sorry to sound harsh, but the Pollyannas need a really good shake.

These quotes below come closest to expressing useful thoughts on this New Year’s Day, 2018, at least for me…

“Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go.” — Brooks Atkinson, American Theatre Critic

Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” — Hal Borland, American Author & Journalist

Perhaps it is useful to run a mental review of the previous year and see what we can learn from it. Should we (could we) have been better prepared on some occasions? Would it have made a difference?

If I were to make some changes in my life for this year, I think that being more physically active would be one. Also setting aside time for the things I want to do, such as playing music, reading, studying languages. Taking more time to notice things would be another…just simple things around me. What the birds and the squirrels get up to in the back yard, for example. Those little observations can clear your mind of a lot of rubbish.

I’m not going to set a deadline, nor keep to a schedule, nor put any pressure on myself. Best to be kind to ourselves and others on as many occasions as possible in this new year—in between the moaning and complaining and the shaking of Pollyannas, of course.


Victoria: Beauty and the Beast

“With the advent of puberty, fed by hormones, the Beast within me grew. I experienced anxiety and panic attacks, some so severe that I had to be taken to the emergency room. I was always accused of taking drugs. I wasn’t, though I should have been. The Beast fed on every thought and emotion until it became so big, so powerful, that I could no longer see any light. Everything was darkness.”

[from an article by Michelle Moreno, entitled “Hiding ‘The Beast’ of Mental Illness,” posted on website themighty.com on March 14, 2017]

Winston Churchill called it his “Black Dog”—his bouts of depression, which could last months at a time.

1 Winston Churchill
That these were serious to the point of being life-threatening is evident from this entry in Lord Moran’s Diary:

August 14, 1944
The P.M. was in a speculative mood today.
“When I was young,” he ruminated, “for two or three years the light faded out of the picture.  I did my work.  I sat in the House of Commons, but black depression settled on me. … I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.  I like to stand right back and if possible to get a pillar between me and the train.  I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.  A second’s action would end everything.  A few drops of desperation.”
[“Churchill, Taken from the Diaries of Lord Moran,” Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, 1966, p. 179]

Notice that he said, “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through.” And that, “I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water.”  He began talking to Moran about when he was young, and yet he used the present tense when describing his strategies to avoid the impulse to jump in front of a moving train or off the deck of a ship.  Not “I didn’t like” (then), but “I don’t like” (now).

Even though Churchill was aware that these episodes of depression could tip him over the edge to suicide, he was able to maintain a hold on rationality, and stand a little back from the abyss.  He seems to have been fortunate in that the degree and nature of his mental illness allowed him to use these strategies to avoid making that split-second bad decision.  Not everyone is so fortunate.

While his depressions were evidently debilitating, they did not seem to have been totally incapacitating…as we know from his life and career.  No doubt he would be classified as a ‘high-functioning’ depressive personality.

Still, as Lord Moran said, “He dreaded these bouts and instinctively kept away from anyone or anything that seemed to bring them on.” [Moran, p. 195]

Mental illness, like any other illness, can affect people to varying degrees.  Are there triggers for it?  Maybe that depends on the person.

There does not appear to have been a trigger for Virginia Woolf’s final episode of mental illness.  Below is her suicide letter to her husband, written just before she filled her overcoat pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse near her home on 28 March 1941.

I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.

2 Virginia Woolf

It’s impossible to imagine, for a person not similarly afflicted, how people can decide that their death will benefit their loved ones.  Nor can people imagine the level of mental torment that can drive a person to seek oblivion rather than suffer another day of it.  But we do know that this is the case.

And that’s not all we know.

While we might not know the causes of mental illness, nor the triggers for a bad episode, we do know that this disease is life-threatening, and that people need help with it.

We’ve all heard of migraine sufferers being so prostrated with severe pain that they have battered their own heads against walls.  That’s hard for anyone who’s never had a migraine headache to understand.

The medical profession cannot discover a cure for migraine headaches any more than they can discover a cure for mental illness.  These are both diseases of the brain…episodic conditions for which no cause has been determined.  The world of medicine attributes migraine headaches to the nerves and blood vessels of the brain, but the specifics of it are unknown.

Changes in vision often signal the onset of an episode of migraine headache, and the headache itself can last as long as 72 hours.  I remember a temporary office worker in my workplace experiencing this preliminary visual disturbance.  I’ve never seen anyone so frightened and distraught.  She was a young, apparently fit and healthy woman in her early 30’s, literally trembling in terror at what was about to happen to her.  She knew that she wouldn’t be able to drive her car at that stage, and asked for us to call an ambulance to get her directly to the hospital.  Somebody left work to drive her there, but we were all a little bewildered.

Even with knowing something about migraine headaches, we had a hard time grasping the extent of the emergency.

I recently listened to an interview where a person with mental illness described the onset of an episode of depression.  She said that visual changes were the first indicator that an attack was imminent.  She described it as a kind of tunnel vision, followed by a numbness in her face.

Just like the migraine sufferer, she was in no doubt about what was coming.

However, the similarity ends there, because most of us have had headaches, and can understand that a migraine headache is a monumentally large and incapacitating headache.

On the other hand, most of us have not experienced an episode of mental illness, and the physical, mental and emotional anguish that accompanies it.

An episode might signal a loss of control by the victim, and sometimes unpredictable behavior in response to distortions of perception and understanding of their immediate environment.  Maybe the person will basically shut down, and experience extreme lethargy and a sort of catatonia.  Maybe they’ll have overwhelming anxiety, extreme fear and paranoia.  No matter what physical symptoms manifest themselves, we won’t understand what’s happening to the person undergoing the crisis, what they will do as a result of it, or what we can do to help, and so we’re frightened.  We’re frightened of the unpredictability and the uncertainty.  We’re frightened of our ignorance.

Human society has historically treated mental illness as a defect reflecting badly on a person and his or her family.  At one time, and in some cases maybe still today, families of these people have hidden them away, fearful that the condition might be hereditary, with the potential to adversely affect the family’s prospects for continuance and prosperity in life.  Mental illness was all about damage control, and, in severe cases, it was standard procedure to put the mental-illness sufferer in a supervised and controlled environment—an institution.

People’s fears and lack of understanding have created a stigma which inhibits the healthcare support opportunities for mental illness even today.  The stigma prevents people from explaining their need for help, and for seeking medical assistance.  It also creates a barrier that medical people struggle to surmount when called upon.

When (and if) a person experiencing a severe episode of mental illness manages to present themselves at the Emergency Department of a hospital, the triage nurse will not see torn flesh or a broken limb.  Unlike a heart or respiratory ailment, there will be no standard symptoms with a potentially identifiable cause.  Furthermore, chances are that the mental illness sufferer will be so disordered in thought by that time that they will be unable to explain the problem they’re experiencing.  This situation is often beyond the capabilities of a hospital to deal with adequately, but the condition can be every bit as life-threatening as any other serious illness.

The first step in removing the stigma–which must be removed in order for sufficient levels of healthcare support for mental illness to be accessible–is openness and communication.

And that brings us…finally…to Victoria.

3 March 17 2016 at Kiwanis festival 2016

Victoria was a lovely, 27-year-old music teacher who suffered mental illness for at least 10 years before she finally ended her own life.  She was the daughter of my first cousin, who suffered along with her, trying time and again to get the help she needed throughout those years.

It was not Victoria’s first attempt at suicide that ended her life; but this last one was perhaps unexpected, even though the risk of it was ever-present.

Victoria had made the following Facebook post on December 7, 2017, just four days before she died…

I’ve never known struggle like waking up unsure if my brain will allow me to accomplish what I want to do every single day. Staying organized and scheduled helps, and learning coping strategies makes it somewhat manageable. But when it’s all said and done, for some of us, our illnesses are like our own personal puppet master – we can pull against the strings to fight but it ultimately has control. It always seems at Christmas time that puppet master gets even more controlling.

I’m making this point now for two reasons.

Firstly, to send a message to those of you who don’t have this issue. We’re nearing the most difficult and dangerous time of year for those with mental illness. The busy schedules, stressful Christmas deadlines, financial burden, and everything else during this supposedly “joyful” time, can cause relapses, heightened symptoms, and expose feeling of loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness. So I just want to send you a reminder to take just a little bit of time out of your busy December schedules to think of the people in your lives that may be suffering from the things I listed above. Whether it’s a phone call or a text, a quick visit, or a coffee date, I think if we all made a pledge to reach out to at least one person who struggles with the Christmas season, we could really make a difference. Some may need a friend to face the busy crowds to complete their shopping despite the anxiety holding them back. Someone that’s alone may just need some company to decorate their tree to turn a lonely experience into a positive one. It doesn’t take much, but we’re all so busy right now with so much on our minds, so I’m posting this little reminder and challenge for everyone who reads this. Sharing the joy you feel will just make your Christmas that much better anyway! You may be the extra strength that’s needed to fight that mental illness puppet master for one person to make their holiday season a happy one.

Secondly, I want to address those of you who are suffering, and dreading these next few weeks (because I know many of you are doing it in silence). My challenge to you is to recognize one positive thing at the end of each busy December day, no matter how crazy and stressful things get, no matter if gravity seems tripled or your chest feels crushed with anxiety. Find just one positive thing, because I promise you it is always there. Also, do one thing that you would consider “self care” every day – whether it’s quiet time alone with a book or a bath, a workout, a glass of wine, a beer, or a cup of tea in your favourite mug. If you’re as strange as I am, it may be watching Super Bowl highlights in bed right before you fall asleep so your day ends with a positive memory! It could even be as simple is as taking a few minutes to stop what you’re doing when you’re stressed and listen to your favourite song. Give every day your best effort, but recognize your limits and don’t beat yourself up for getting behind or missing deadlines. (There are 12 days of Christmas for any gifts not prepared for the 25th after all!) Most importantly, please reach out for help if you need it. If there’s anything I’ve learned this fall, it’s that almost everyone out there wants to help those of us who are suffering, but they sometimes don’t know how or are afraid to reach out. So please, please don’t be afraid to ask. Look forward to the fresh start in the new year, and take things one day, one hour, even one minute at a time right now. If things are really bad and you think they could get worse, make a list of people you can contact in times of crisis and write down the mental health crisis line (709-737-4668) and put it in a safe, accessible place. It may take a lot of effort, but this doesn’t have to be a bad month.

I’m writing this right now because I just had a friend reach out to me after a very difficult 24 hours and what he said helped me achieve the clarity and focus to gather these thoughts. I was on a downward spiral and one simple Facebook message may have just stopped that, so I had to share this in the hopes it could also help someone else. It may be a little selfish because I also may need to revisit this post every day this month to review my own advice in order to push through.

So let’s focus a little less on “things” this Christmas and a little more on helping each other and taking care of ourselves. Ironically, the Grinch may have actually said it best: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”  ❤️”

Facebook was the medium Victoria used to convey her experience of mental illness to friends, friends of friends, family, and others.  She described what she did to cope, and the difficulties and frustrations she had with getting help from medical institutions.

To give you a sense of her life over the previous months, the following are selections from Victoria’s Facebook postings during the year.

From Victoria’s Facebook timeline, April 11, 2017:  an up-beat post talking about her successes to that point in 2017…

“It’s legitimately the happiest I’ve felt in all of my 27 years, which is an even bigger victory considering at this point last year I was ready to give up on life altogether. I just completed my double New Years challenge of 100 days of no junk food and 100 happy days on Instagram. It’s the first time I can remember that I’ve had close to that many good days in a row and can proudly say that I’ve yet to “lose” a day to mental illness so far in 2017. As for the food, I survived 100 days without any cake, cookies, ice cream, candy, chocolate, dessert of any kind, baked goods, chips, breaded protein, French fries, pizza, and any deep fried or fast foods. My only “treat” was beer! I survived the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl with no nachos and wings, no chocolate on Valentine’s, over a week of eating on the run during the music festival, a birthday without cake, and had to watch everyone else eat pizza at our annual Kiwanis survival party! It was primarily an exercise in maintaining mental control, but the 20-pound weight loss was a much-welcomed bonus and I’ve reached higher fitness levels during this challenge than I ever have.

I learned so much about the benefits of focusing on the positive and will be taking this new mindset with me way past the 100-day mark. Having to find something happy and somewhat original to post every day helped reinforce everything I’ve learned on the road to recovery over the past few years and I encourage anyone who’s looking for some motivation to look up the hashtag and the challenge website. (100happydays.com) It makes me a little sad to scroll through Facebook and still read so much negativity and see so many people thriving off criticizing others. I often see similar posts from myself in my memories from 6-10 years ago when I was completely miserable and struggling to fix my problems with medication instead of getting to the root of the problem. I wish I could help those people see how much better life can be in every way when you train your brain to let go of negative thinking altogether and fight intrusions with logical thought and by planning coping strategies to equip yourself for tough or unexpected bad times.

I want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout and before this challenge because I definitely didn’t do it on my own. I especially want to thank the fantastic support system I have around me within my studio with all of the students and their parents. I just had to share my celebration cake tonight with Chandler, Jill, Victoria, Kelsey, Reilly, and Andrew because they are such an important part of this accomplishment and my motivation to get to this point. I’ve said before that beating mental illness wasn’t about ever crossing a finish line, but after these last 100 days, I sure feel like I’ve put this monster in remission.

I’m sharing so much personal information again because I truly want to help. So message me, message someone else you can trust, buy a book of positive quotes, sign up for your own challenge, do everything you think could work for you. But just know that things can get A LOT better – even from the deepest, darkest times imaginable – it just takes a lot of planning and work, and surrounding yourself with the right people (and pets!) Please ignore the skeptics. It’s easy for me now because I was one of them. I would have rolled my eyes at this post more than anyone else seven or eight years ago. If you can find a way to live a positive lifestyle despite what you’re feeling, things will change and eventually you’ll feel those bad thoughts a whole lot less. Onwards and always upwards, friends! 😄”

4 100 Happy Days, with cake

On June 29, 2017, Victoria posted this, along with a link to an article…

“I’ll share this article every year again and again because it’s one of the best I’ve read.

I’ve tried to find a balance between continuing to spread awareness through my own personal experiences, yet also constantly reminding myself that it’s not necessary to feel I have to justify my actions and strange lifestyle to the world. I barely understand myself how one day I can be in such a dark place that I’m physically unable to attend a friend’s wedding, yet four days later I can stand in front of hundreds of people and pull off a concert that includes 50 kids without breaking a sweat. It’s like a permanent roller coaster ride, except you’re blindfolded and it’s impossible to tell if next you’ll be headed upwards or suddenly into a downwards free fall. Eventually you learn to prepare for both. And that’s why relationships and a social life are so difficult to maintain.

I do know that the single best breakthrough I ever had was learning to embrace positivity after fighting it for years and years. There actually is something good (or at least beneficial) in every crazy day, it’s just a little more difficult to find in some. As I transition into my less structured summer schedule, I’m just happy I can’t comprehend this concept of “boredom” that so many people seem concerned with regularly!

I’m not going into a lot of detail tonight but I will say that the highs I’ve experienced within the past year are worth struggling through the lows a million times over. I’m strongly encouraging you to read this article in full if you are trying to understand your own anxiety, or that of a significant other, child, friend, co-worker, or if you simply enjoy seeing the world from other perspectives. Enough understanding eventually leads to acceptance. My own personal acceptance has been a whole lot of fun over the past year. I’ve decided I may just have to keep this brain yet!

No really, please take a few minutes to read this!! (Or save it for later – the best Facebook feature yet!) ⬇️⬇️

High-functioning anxiety feels like…

A snake slithering up my back, clamping its jaws shut where my shoulders meet my neck. Punch-in-the-gut stomach aches, like my body is confusing answering an email with being attacked by a lion.

High-functioning anxiety sounds like…

You’re not good enough. You’re a bad friend. You’re not good at your job. You’re wasting time. You’re a waste of time. Your boyfriend doesn’t love you. You’re so needy. What are you doing with yourself? Why would you say that? What if they hate it? Why can’t you have your shit together? You’re going to get anxious and because you’re going to get anxious, you’re going to mess everything up. You’re a fraud. Just good at faking it. You’re letting everybody down. No one here likes you.

All the while, it appears perfectly calm.

It’s always looking for the next outlet, something to channel the never-ending energy. Writing. Running. List-making. Mindless tasks (whatever keeps you busy). Doing jumping jacks in the kitchen. Dancing in the living room, pretending it’s for fun, when really it’s a choreographed routine of desperation, trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in your head.

It’s silent anxiety attacks, hidden by smiles.

It’s always being busy but also always avoiding, so important things don’t get done. It’s letting things pile up rather than admitting you’re overwhelmed or in need of help.

It’s that sharp pang of saying the wrong thing, the one that starts the cycles of thoughts. Because you said too much, and nobody cares, and it makes you never want to speak up again.

On July 2, 2017, an up-beat posting about receiving one of the “150 Faces of Clarenville” awards, along with her grandfather, the former mayor of the town…

“I am totally shocked but so honoured! While I wasn’t surprised to see my grandfather receive one of the “150 Faces of Clarenville” awards last night, I had no idea I was on the list as well. I love this place with all of my heart and can’t imagine a better place to grow up, run a business, and now buy my first home. I’m a Clarenville resident for life for sure! It’s an amazing feeling to share this award with Grandad – the hardest working person I know and my number one role model for life. I’m so appreciative to the committee and want to send out a huge thank you to everyone who has made this Canada 150 week so awesome in our town. A week to remember for sure!”

5 Victoria and grandfather, 150 faces of Clarenville

On July 3, 2017, a post in celebration of the anniversary of Bruno’s adoption from the SPCA, seven years ago…

“It’s a little late, but while everyone was celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday on July 1st, I had even more to celebrate – seven full years with the strangest, grumpiest, most entertaining dog who ever lived! He was clearly enthused about his “gotcha day” photo shoot…”

6 photo of Bruno

On August 10, 2017, a post about the New England Patriots sports room in her home [Victoria was a huge fan of the Patriots]…

“I thought about this room for years and then even when it became a reality this spring I still had to wait through the last couple of months of the offseason to fully enjoy it. But the wait is over and I finally get to watch my first game in my dream Patriots room RIGHT NOW! At this moment I’m probably the happiest human in the world and every bit of blood, sweat, and tears that it took to get to this point were 100% worth it. I still can’t believe this is my house!!
(Stay tuned for more updates – a bar is in the works!!)”

7 sports room 1

8 sports room 2

On August 19, 2017, a post about a very successful fishing trip with her grandad; she says…

“What a day!!”

9 Victoria with Grandfather and fish

On September 7, 2017…Victoria posted a remembrance of a friend she worked with at the SPCA…

My heart is broken over the loss of one of the best SPCA volunteers I worked with during my five years on the job. She was such an awesome person. Constantly thinking about her family and friends. The message below from Ashley is an important one. ❤️

Ashley Anne Balsom
September 7 ·

I know this is going to be a really tough week for a lot of people out home and those back at school. For anyone at MUN this is the number for the counselling centre 864-8500. As well this is the mental health crisis line 24-hour mental health crisis line: 737-4668 (local) or 1-888-737-4668 (province-wide). If you can’t access either of these resources you can also check out the 7cups of tea online portal where you can talk to someone anonymously about any struggles you may be dealing with. My thoughts are with you all

Below are some photos of the music studio she created in the basement of her home.  These were posted to mark the first anniversary of her at-home music studio:

10 music studio 1

11 music studio 2


Victoria Oct 1 2017

On September 15, 2017, a photo from a recent outing with her dogs, Bruno and Belle…

“I love my evening work schedule on days like this one and I think these guys do too! Summer isn’t over yet!! (No bear sightings today!)”

14 Bruno and Belle

On October 19, 2017, an ominous portent of things to come, she tells us about a mental health crisis she experienced, and the local community health facility’s inability to meet her need…

“I never use Facebook for negativity but I feel I have to speak up about this situation. After weeks of fighting alone and considering seeking help at the hospital, I finally walked into G. B. Cross emergency unit yesterday afternoon. I told them I was going through a mental health crisis and needed a psychiatric assessment. I was not safe to drive, I was not safe to be released alone, and I had little memory of the previous seven hours in which I had driven to and from St. John’s, but less than two hours later I was shown to the door with an outpatient appointment for 24 hours later. I left feeling much more hopeless than I entered. I was just looking for help and was essentially told there was nothing they could do for me. I told them I was there because I didn’t feel safe and they sent me on my way without even a consultation from a mental health professional. By finally seeking help, I actually put myself in a more dangerous situation. Because I was well spoken, and had not harmed myself already, I was pretty much turned away.

Would things had been different if I was covered in blood from self harm? If I was shouting profanities and making a scene and threatening terrible actions to myself or others? I know for fact it would have been. I was respectfully asking for help and I was not taken seriously. I’m not trying to compare any situation here because I think all cases should be treated with equal importance but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that suicide rates are high among well respected working professionals. I think about my great uncle, I think about the much-loved RCMP officer who were lost.

I thought we had come so far since I was first assessed at a hospital almost ten years ago, but it turns out our system is as unorganized and inconsistent as ever. Everything in the media including advertisements from our own health care system is encouraging us to seek help BEFORE things get extreme, and as stupid as I felt walking through those doors yesterday, when I compared it to my previous situations, I thought I was doing the right thing. I had to reschedule an appointment with my own psychiatrist on Monday because I was too sick to drive to St. John’s and I knew I couldn’t continue suffering until her next available appointment on November 27th without making some kind of change.

I am not angry with anyone at G.B. Cross, and the nurse who assessed me was especially encouraging and understanding. I am so angry with our system. I could have been another unnecessary victim last night. We’ve made it to the point in which most people are able to talk about their mental health issues without fear of judgement in both social and workplace environments. Now we need more from our health care system.

If you leave a hospital feeling worse than when you entered that hospital, something is wrong. I am discouraged, I am frustrated, I am sad that I now feel as if I don’t have a safe place to go in a time of crisis in my own community. I sure hope that someone in this province is working to make this better. For now, if you’re feeling in danger or in immediate need of help, I recommend finding someone to take you directly to the Waterford Assessment Unit or calling an ambulance to do so. I don’t want anyone else to feel what I felt yesterday.”

There were 205 comments, 962 reactions with emoticons, and 1,452 shares for this posting.  Victoria always had plenty of support, love and good wishes from all over.  Here are three of the 205 comments posted in response to Victoria’s Facebook post:

A few years ago my daughter attempted suicide while I was out of the country. She was taken to the Waterford hospital and observed for a few hours. The doctor then asked her if she was going to try it again. She said no and they released her and sent her to a homeless shelter! That was 5 years ago and I still get angry when I think about it. Thankfully she is doing much better today.


This makes me so mad, we have no help for mental health. Been going through this with my son since he was 13 yrs old, back and forth to Corner Brook to St. John’s, and got nothing to show for it. Only a headstone I have to visit every day, 😢 23-year-old young man that cried and begged for help but was let down 😡and who suffers now? We the family because of the health system that we are supposed to have.  Stay strong Victoria Best, and don’t give up.


My girlfriend was sent home on “suicide watch” when she lived alone and she did show up with her arms cut, and started her car with fumes going in… they don’t do sh*t for anyone here…bleeding or not…they don’t seem to care.. I’m so sorry you had to face this & I hope you find the strength to rise above it all. If you EVER need help there are 24hr lines, chats, text apps, family & friends… even strangers but NEVER let your voice go unheard … I am happy you are still here to tell your story.. and I wish you nothing but healing & positive for the future never let anyone make you feel like you do not matter, you do.. very much.. your life is important and I am so sorry this wasn’t seen by professionals 😞❤️ ..just know you are beautiful, you mean so much and that things WILL get better.. never let anyone make you feel small.

On October 21, 2017, two days after her posting about the frustration she experienced trying to get help from the community hospital…

I appreciate all the support from my last post, and was glad to see so many people share both my story and their own experiences. An awful lot has happened to me since then, including some bad choices made out of frustration and feelings of hopelessness, but I’m already back home and ready to fight for some change so I never have to experience another week like this and so hopefully no one else will be pushed to do what I did. Our health care system sure has a long way to go to create a better system for assessing mental health patients in times of crisis, but I was lucky enough to follow one bad experience with an amazing one at St. Clare’s Hospital these last two days. I was admitted yesterday as a psychiatric patient being treated for a medical emergency and I received the best care, and absolutely no judgement from a single person I encountered – the PCA who stayed with me, the lab techs, the med student who examined me, my doctor, the psychiatrist who was on call this morning, and every fantastic nurse. They were encouraging, supportive, and so willing to talk for hours to help me come to terms with what I went through. I’m home after such a horrible experience so quickly because of the work of all of these amazing people and I’m thankful to each one of them.

Please keep sharing your stories about your issues with mental health assessment in this province, even if you want to send them to me personally. I’m going to put them all together and hopefully we’ll have enough to really push for some change. I know something like this can’t be fixed overnight but something as simple as a mandatory 24-hour hold on patients with suicidal ideation in any emergency room sure would have made this a much better week for me, my family, and friends.

Each of us knows someone struggling with mental illness so we have to speak up so that future generations don’t have to go through these terrible experiences when they need help the most. I know now that we have the support of many of the health care workers, and that many share our frustrations. We have to keep fighting for progress one small step at a time!

On November 8, 2017, apparently back on track after that terrible episode in late October, she posted a tribute to her neighbour, who’d recently passed away…

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each others life.”

This week we are saying goodbye to a truly extraordinary person I have the pleasure of calling family – someone I referred to from an early age as my neighbour or Mr. Martin, but in recent years have more frequently used the terms “my ‘other’ grandfather” or simply “George.”

George is one of those great humans that didn’t just make the people around him better people, but hugely impacted his whole community, province, and I won’t even hesitate to say, made the world a better place. He is the epitome of strength, perseverance, volunteerism, dedication, and passion, and it would be difficult to find another person with such exuberance for life. That’s why I can’t bring myself to refer to him in the past tense – he has the kind of spirit that will live on through a lot of us who know him, and on the golf course, in the bowling alley, in his church, and in the many other places he loved for a very long time to come.

It wouldn’t be a tribute to George if it was entirely serious so I’ll have to end by saying that I just hope wherever he is right now it has an all you can eat daily buffet breakfast (with a special table just for Tim Horton’s honey crullers), and like Paul mentioned earlier this week, I hope it has a golf course so he can reach his goal of shooting his age!

I found this anonymous poem this week, and it does a great job of simply summing up all the nice comments I’ve heard from so many people about George’s life this week:

Life Well Lived

A life well lived is a precious gift, of hope and strength, and grace,
From someone who has made our world a brighter, better place.
It’s filled with moments, sweet and sad with smiles and sometimes tears,
With friendships formed and good times shared, and laughter through the years.
A life well lived is a legacy, of joy and pride and pleasure,
A living, lasting memory, our grateful hearts will treasure.

15 George and Victoria

On November 19, 2017, she was watching her favourite football team, The New England Patriots, play against the Oakland Raiders and thinking about her award-winning music students…

“Escaping to Mexico for a few hours with my team, but my heart is in Halifax tonight. So proud of my Royal Conservatory Gold Medalists Eda and Ava who are attending the medal ceremony this evening, and wishing I could have been there too as planned!”

On November 24, 2017, she marked the first anniversary of buying her first house…

“One roller coaster of a year in the books already! I can’t imagine living anywhere else at this point. If it’s possible for a house to be the love of your life, then I know this is the one. It’s been my favourite place to celebrate the good times, but also the most comforting place to be when things get difficult. Here’s to the next year of music-making, sports-watching, and ocean-view breakfasts in my favourite place!”

[The posting below was embedded in the previous one, and takes us back to the previous year, just after the sale on her new house closed…]

November 24, 2016…
“This moment alone was worth every sacrifice of the past couple years a million times over. Almost seven years of basement apartment living comes to an end today for me and the dogs – I AM OFFICIALLY A HOMEOWNER!!”

16 Victoria and dogs with house

On November 30, 2017, she was sorting out her passport application for a planned trip…

“Looking for someone travelling from Clarenville to St. John’s today that can bring in a form to my mom to resolve an issue with my passport application. Only three weeks until I’m on a plane so would really appreciate the help!”

Sadly, she never made that trip, because less than two weeks later she had a relapse of her disease, and chose not to suffer any longer.

17 June 30 2016

These postings are just a little snippet of her life over the few months before her death.  It doesn’t paint the whole picture, because the family members closest to her are not shown (with the exception of the photos of her grandfather).  But her family was always ‘in her corner’; and, as I personally know, especially her mother, who fought along with her against the illness.

Victoria had a happy, satisfying life, with love and support all around her.  She was beautiful, intelligent and talented, with a job she enjoyed teaching music…

18 Christmas Dec 21 2016, at piano

19 June 30 2014, Victoria playing guitar

She was an outdoors girl who enjoyed hiking with her dogs, Bruno and Belle, and fishing with her grandfather…

20 Victoria hugging tree Dec 18 2012

21 Victoria with Belle and Bruno, Gros Morne National Park June 26 2016

She loved her music students and her lovely home.  She loved her community, her neighbours, friends, and family—and they all loved her.

Paradoxically, what this serves to do is to provide the answer to the question, “Why.”

Why would she end her own life?  Because, even with all the joy she had in the life she loved, she had a mental illness, and in her case it was, tragically, terminal.  There was an intruder in her brain:  a monstrous puppet-master, a beast.  It drove her to do the unthinkable.

Poet and writer Sylvia Plath committed suicide at the age of 30, after struggling for most of her life against depression.  She had two young children at the time of her death, and was alone in the house with them, having been separated from her husband for the previous six months.  Sylvia put her head in the gas oven in her kitchen so that she might die of the fumes, but prior to doing that, she took great care to ensure that none of the fumes would escape the kitchen and affect her sleeping children.

23 Sylvia Plath1

She had sealed around the doors separating her from her children by using tape, towels and cloths.  The timing of her suicide (4:30 a.m.), and the instructions in her final note also signalled her care that her children should be found fairly soon afterwards (a home-help person was due to arrive that morning).  Her doctor said, “No one who saw the care with which the kitchen was prepared could have interpreted her action as anything but an irrational compulsion.”

Maybe the act itself was an irrational compulsion, since the impulse to live is more understandable than the impulse to die, but there was nothing irrational about the careful preparations made for the subsequent care of her children.

I don’t know why people persist in trying to explain—to rationalize—mental illness, as if ‘changing your mind’ will cure you of it.  If there is some imbalance in the person’s body chemistry that results in distorted thinking, paranoia, extreme anxiety or whatever, we might have to accept that there is a physical cause for the mental disease.  I personally find that my own thinking and emotions get a little out of control when I am coming down with an illness.  When the cold or flu manifests itself with the first physical symptoms a day or so later, I can say, “So THAT’S why I was feeling depressed the other day.”  It’s pretty consistent–I’ve noticed it time and again.

But so many people look at a person suffering clinical depression and want to know why.  They tried to analyze Sylvia Plath’s relationships…a supposedly authoritarian father (who died when she was eight years old), her mother, her husband…as if an explanation could be found there.

I recently heard an interview of Jenny Lawson (“The Bloggess,” who also suffers severe bouts of depression), in which she said, categorically, that nothing bad had ever happened to her to cause her mental illness.

And I don’t know why anyone would think that a person can be talked out of it.  There may be some benefit in counselling with a view to developing coping strategies, but when an episode reaches crisis proportions, no one should be surprised that the coping strategies are not always available when needed.  At best, the counselling may help the person to keep hold of the thought that, as Jenny Lawson has written in her blog site, the illness tells lies.  When one is in the throes of a depression, despite what ‘the beast’ in one’s brain is saying, the darkness WILL lift, and one WILL regain one’s life and self.  The lie is that the darkness and the torment is all there is, forever.

As is obvious from Victoria’s life and writing, she was intelligent, and no one was more positive, optimistic and capable than she on a good day.  She was courageous and generous in sharing her experiences to promote understanding and care for others.  She knew the dangers of her illness, and was aware of the times that she needed medical help.  It does not seem to be possible to maintain mental equilibrium with force of will alone; medical assistance must factor into care, at least until medical researchers manage to come up with something curative.

Medical research can look at viruses and bacteria under a microscope, but cannot—at last not at the moment—test human cells in a laboratory and isolate the ‘germ’ of a mental disease.  As a result, and because the brain is the generator for the intangible world of thought, ideas, and imagination, people somehow think it possible to work from the outside-in and compel the mental illness sufferer to ‘get their mind right.’

But what if, for example, mental illness is caused by something biological, perhaps an allergy or something of that nature that disrupts our body chemistry and affects our brains?

Victoria appears to have attributed her success against her mental illness earlier in the year to her new mode of thinking positively.  The fact that she also altered her diet makes me wonder about the part it might have played in the success she experienced at the beginning of the year.

The following may be anecdotal evidence, but I had a friend whose daughter was suffering all the symptoms of schizophrenia.  My friend had to retire from work to stay home and look after her daughter.  They tried to find help everywhere, and eventually heard about a physician in Ontario who believed in modifying diet to resolve mental problems.  His thought was that some people have sensitivities to certain substances, and eliminating them could have a beneficial effect.  When they visited him, he suggested that they stringently avoid any foods with additives, preservatives, dyes and so forth.

After a period of months, she was so much improved that she could return to work, and has been living a normal, drug-free life ever since.  Quite a dramatic result, but maybe not a ‘one size fits all.’

I was glad to see that there is currently some support for looking at a biological cause for mental illness.  The following comes from an article by Kirsten Weir, “The Roots of Mental Illness, How much of mental illness can the biology of the brain explain?” [from the American Psychological Association website, http://www.apa.org, June 2012, Vol 43, No. 6 Print version:  page 30]

“Eric Kandel, MD, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of brain science at Columbia University, believes it’s all about biology. “All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases,” he says. “The brain is the organ of the mind. Where else could [mental illness] be if not in the brain?”

That viewpoint is quickly gaining supporters, thanks in part to Thomas R. Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, who has championed a biological perspective during his tenure at the agency.

To Insel, mental illnesses are no different from heart disease, diabetes or any other chronic illness. All chronic diseases have behavioral components as well as biological components, he says. “The only difference here is that the organ of interest is the brain instead of the heart or pancreas. But the same basic principles apply.””

I hope that one day we will look back on these days as ‘the unenlightened times’…the dark ages of mental illness…not only in terms of attitudes, but also in terms of treatment.  In some ways our era is a continuance of the time in the 18th century when fashionable people—and others who could afford it—paid an admission to tour Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital in south London, England.  Those people who toured Bethlem Hospital did so largely for entertainment purposes; to look at the ‘lunatics’ warehoused there and observe their manner and eccentric behaviour.  This propagated the perception of the general public that people with mental problems were ‘the other’…that they were not quite human.  I think we know better than that, today, but we still have a long way to go to gain full understanding.

Even in 2014, a 15-year-old named Chris Brennan died of asphyxiation while at Bethlem hospital after repeated self harming. The coroner found lack of proper risk assessment and lack of a care plan contributed to this death.  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlem_Royal_Hospital]

It’s difficult to understand how a person with a history of repeated self harming, and who is under medical care in hospital, can die as a result of improper risk assessment and lack of a care plan.  2014 was only three years ago–surely SOMEONE knew what to do to help him?  But apparently not.

And speaking of self harm, here are Victoria’s own words on that subject…
This is from Victoria’s Facebook posting of January 25, 2017:

“Mental illness has been a daily struggle for me since I can remember. Today it still affects me each day, but I am winning this war because of the fantastic support system around me, some great coping strategies, and the work I did to remove negative thinking from my life and focus my brain on logic-based thought almost exclusively. (If you don’t know what DBT is, please look it up.)

On the outside looking in, this past year seems to have been full of successes and happy moments for me – a great year for my business, two sold-out charity shows, and of course successfully purchasing a house on my own. 2016 was the best year of my life, but it was also the worst. So goes the roller coaster ride that is fighting with your brain every day. I’ve achieved all these successes by only focusing on the positive experiences in my life, so that’s what you see on social media. I’ve learned to let the failures go immediately – they are just learning experiences wrapped in ugly paper anyway.

But today is about awareness so I’m going to share a little more of my story. I was always open about my issues but there has always been one topic I’ve been hesitant to talk about. I was speaking with friends and tweeting while drinking my morning coffee earlier on this inspiring #BellLetsTalk day, looking at the scene you see in the attached photo, when I decided I was ready to open up a little further.

You see, I had the misfortune of developing an invisible “self destruct button.” I haven’t fully adapted to my new positive lifestyle yet – it seems when things are going really well, my brain is unable to process a certain amount of happiness, so I do things to sabotage my own successes. You saw the happy concert posts and videos, but you didn’t see the severe panic attack that almost cancelled the show in which I completely blacked out for over an hour. You saw me on my new front lawn with my two dogs, smiling and holding my house keys, but you didn’t see the crash that forced me to sleep for two days straight, right through my original closing date – almost costing me everything I had worked so hard for.

Sometimes my self-destruct button means drinking enough to put life on pause. Other times it means eating so much that I can’t sleep with the stomach pain. And occasionally, I do some real damage, and that’s what this photo is about. Self harm is one of the least understood topics associated with the mental health spectrum today. It’s an addiction you can never fully recover from, and is always in the mind of those affected, even when the scars have faded. It’s the most spectacular release with the most devastating and frustrating consequences. It has plagued me every day since my first cut over twelve years ago.

When things started getting better for me, I booked a tattoo appointment to get my extensive thigh scars covered up. It was a part of my goal to change my perspective on the bad things that had happened to me in the past. I couldn’t erase the scars, but I could turn them into something beautiful. For such a large tattoo, three sessions were required. My first was in July 2015, the second the following December, and the last was scheduled for March 2016. After my second session I began counting down the days until a time when I would no longer have any visible scars to cover up. No more shorts in the summer, and maybe I could even wear a bathing suit someday! I almost made it. I had two days to go. But then on March 15th, 2016, I had the worst relapse of my life. I was devastated to go to my final tattoo session to cover the last remaining scars on my leg with my arm wrapped in a bandage. Then, after eight months and all the happiness of moving into my first home, it happened again on New Year’s Eve.

Why am I sharing this very personal story with the whole world? Because I’m so scared for the girls and boys who are alone in their rooms, lonely and frustrated, who just want to feel better and have run out of viable options. I was 14 and I was that girl. If I had a time machine, my only wish would be to go back to that first incident and stop myself from making that first cut. That’s why I’m sharing this story – so maybe I can stop that first cut from happening for someone else. There is ALWAYS a better option and there are people out there to help you find which one will work best for you. There are so many better things to absorb your anger, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and loneliness than your own skin.

I’m also sharing this today as part of a pledge to make it through this entire year without another relapse. I promise every single person who reads this that I will do absolutely everything in my power to stay clean of self harm for all of 2017. If I make it – actually WHEN I make it – I’ll book an appointment to cover up my remaining scars and finally achieve my original goal.

It’s also a reminder to always be kind. A person may seem like the happiest person in the world, but you never know what struggles they face behind closed doors. As always, I am so willing to talk to anyone and everyone who needs some outside help with their own mental health issues. I know a stranger with no background information can sometimes be the most helpful when you need a fresh perspective and I’m willing to be that person.

And last but not least, even though the focus is on today, please remember to continue this conversation every day of the year. I am so appreciative of the continued support, Facebook friends, and I will continue to pay it forward.”

24 tattoo

Tragically, Victoria was unable to stay completely clean of self-harm for all of 2017.  The year that began with the best intentions, ended with the worst outcome.

A person taking the step of ending his or her own life usually leaves family and friends with an added dimension of shock and grief, and so it was for Victoria’s family and friends.  However, while the cause of her death was incomprehensible, it was at the same time known.  Because she was so generous and open, with a talent for writing and an earnest desire to help, her friends and family could express their sorrow while celebrating her life and accomplishments at her funeral service.   Many, many people, some total strangers to Victoria and her family, joined them at the visitations, in sympathy and respect.

And, unlike most deaths, there was something people could do to help cope with the loss.  They could carry on where Victoria left off, advocating for mental health support and promoting understanding of mental illness.

News of Victoria’s passing, and its cause, was broadcast on television, on radio, and in newspapers, thanks to the friends who knew that she would want to continue to be the instrument of advocacy.  Everyone wishes that she had stayed to continue the fight herself–no amount of benefit can ever compensate for her loss–but she does leave a legacy.  This can be seen in the determination of her friends to eradicate the stigma of mental illness, and continue her fight for better mental healthcare resources.

This song by the Beatles was important to Victoria, and emblematic of her struggle…


Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

25 Victoria playing guitar Juy 10 2015

A Sign of the Times

I was saddened to hear that a used-book shop in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, was closing its doors after being in business since the early 1970’s.

It happened quite suddenly, although I’m sure people could see it coming.

One day the door was locked, and the handwritten sign in the window said, “We have tried to keep Afterwords going, to serve our community and to support our family. In the end we can do neither. Good-Bye.”

A short while later, the store re-opened for a few more days to liquidate stock at greatly reduced prices.   My neighbour told me about it, she and I being great book-lovers.

So I went down there, feeling a little depressed, but incapable of resisting the siren call: ”Books at reduced prices.” I had to obey the summons.

I parked on the road, and walked into the shop, greeted immediately by that lovely, musty, old-book smell. Unfortunately, another woman of around my own age had gotten there ahead of me. Not that there wasn’t room for both of us, but she was apparently oblivious to the sanctity of the occasion. She was pushy and loud–demanding of the owner that he direct her to where a certain genre of book was shelved.

He responded in much the same way I would have responded, were I in his shoes, although I cringed when he did it since he could easily have been speaking to me. He said to her, in a grumpy/exasperated way, “You obviously haven’t been in the store previously, or you would know the layout, and where everything is.”


It was an honest, heartfelt remark made with some justification. Three reasons:

First, the shop WAS organized very well, with all the travel books in one section, fiction in another, self-help in another, religion in another, and so on. A quick walk around the little shop would quickly and easily tell one that.

Second, her ignorance pegged her for not being a regular customer; she had obviously only troubled herself to visit the shop on that day for bargain-hunting purposes. SHE was one of the reasons he had been forced out of business. I suspected that he loved his bookshop (who wouldn’t?) and, like people everywhere who love their jobs, it defined him, gave him focus and purpose, maybe nurtured his spirit.

Third was the way I felt about us, she and me—neither of us having done anything to support the business. I felt like a vulture picking over the bones of something that had died, while the former caregiver stood by watching as we did it.

In essence, even though he was the bookshop owner, he had been fired from the job he loved. By her. And, unfortunately, since I had forgotten all about his little shop and hadn’t been there in at least ten years…me.

She was not phased by his remark in the least (I would have walked out if he’d said that to me, licking my well-earned wounds), and persisted in wanting to know where the books were that interested her. She wanted some Newfoundland books. I thought that that might just mark her for a mainlander–that plus the total absence of a Newfoundland accent, and her general manner and demeanor. That’s not to say that Newfoundlanders can’t be pushy; but they’d be pushy, IF they were pushy, in a different way entirely. It would have been very much less offensive to the person being pushed if a Newfoundlander were doing the pushing.

I’m mainland-raised by Newfoundland parents, so I have an awareness of this cultural difference that I can’t really account for, other than instinct.

In any case, he directed her to the shelves where the Newfoundland books were kept. They happened to be right beside where I was standing–near the door, since I had just walked in.

She responded to him in the same brash tone of voice, “No, I’ve seen those.” And he told her that that’s all there was.

I went around the corner to look at the books there, and he came into that section to re-shelve some books. I wanted to speak to him, but wasn’t quite brave enough for it.

So I did the only thing I could, in sympathy, and that was to move quietly and reverently amongst the bookshelves, treating every book I touched as if it were leather bound, and trimmed with 22kt gold leaf. Didn’t matter that it was an old paperback with cracked plastic coating on its cardboard cover, I treated it like a museum piece.

She didn’t leave right away, because I saw her later at the check-out counter. She had made her purchases, and left her books on the counter while she put on her jacket. The cashier signalled for me to put my books down on the counter—and thank goodness, my arms were aching. I told her how sorry I was that the shop was closing, and she mentioned that it had been in business for over 40 years, but times were changing.

Perhaps overhearing my conversation with the cashier brought some understanding of the occasion to this woman. She grabbed her bag of books off the counter, shot a “Too bad” at the cashier, and walked out.

That ‘too bad’ might have sounded callous to some, but to me it just sounded clumsy. I began to suspect that this woman was just not empathetic, and didn’t know any better way to express sympathy, once she was aware that sympathy was called for.

I rather liked the bookshop name, “Afterwords” although, given present circumstances, it had a poignancy not intended at the time the shop first opened its doors.

“Afterwords,” the shop, might have been named with the thought in mind that its customers, in the most basic sense, would be shopping for collections of words in book form. Customers would visit the shop because they were there ‘after words.’

Whatever the original intention was in naming the shop, it seems that the name now takes on a new shade of meaning. Below is the dictionary definition:

“Afterwords: a concluding section in a book, typically by a person other than the author.”

The book shop,“Afterwords,” as it shuts its doors, itself concludes; its conclusion written by people other than authors—or bookshop owners. It was written by us–we the book-buyers and readers. It’s partly because we’re reading on Kindles, and iPads, or ordering inexpensive new books from Amazon through the internet. They deliver right to our doors, rain or snow notwithstanding, without our having to drive into a busy downtown area and find parking on the street in a spot that has a functioning parking meter so we won’t run the risk of being ticketed.

Then there are the used-book-store competitors: the Salvation Army Thrift Shop, and maybe also Value Village. These places are often more conveniently located than a downtown book shop. In the case of the Salvation Army, the books can be very inexpensive. If I just want a book, that’s usually where I go.

The larger bookshops, like Chapters, often have inexpensive books that they’re selling off.  A second-hand bookstore would have difficulty competing with them.

If I want a particular book, I go to Amazon. The chances of my combing through the offerings of a small used-book store and finding exactly the book I want are slim-to-nil. Not worth the trip to town.

And if I want a book RIGHT NOW, I find the electronic book online and download it to my Kindle or PC. It takes seconds.  Don’t even have to get out of my chair.

And then there are libraries. Books on loan for free. And now e-Libraries.  Some of them are audiobooks, which can be read to me while I do other things.

I have to say, however, that electronic books will never be better than a real, physical book. Where do you put your sticky notes in an electronic book?  (Of course, nobody desecrates a book with handwriting on the pages, do they?)  Electronic book-marking is a pitiful and useless imitation.  Also, how do you quickly flip back through the pages to re-read something, and easily return to where you left off? That’s why God made thumbs, in case you were wondering. No, I’m in control with a real book. An electronic book just leads me by the nose. Not the same.

But the Afterwords cashier was right, the times they are a-changin.’ And as sad as it is in many ways, it has to be.

The writing is not in Afterwords any longer; it’s on the wall.


Getting Right up Somebody’s Nose

First a word about my banner…I love that face. There’s something worldly-wise about it. Also a bit cranky, I think. He’ll be asking me, “Are you Creationist or Evolutionist”? Well, the answer is “Evolutionist.”

He might also be asking me—if he is as wise, and as cranky, as he appears—”WHY are you introducing THIS topic?”

I suppose I ought to have learned by now that it isn’t possible to talk about politics or religion without getting right up somebody’s nose. Still, this topic came to mind because of an e-mail I received today. I’ll explain later…

So…Does God Exist? (Nothing controversial about that, right?)

People say, “No, He doesn’t, because a loving God, a powerful God, would not allow all the evils of earth to occur, and to continue to occur…diseases, famines, wars, etc. These things would cease if God lived.”

People say, “No, because his proponents are often self-serving, amoral kinds of people who live sumptuous lives while picking the pockets of elderly people in poor health, living on meager pensions.”

People say, “No, because Old Testament Bible passages are often obscure and meaningless, and sometimes objectionable.”

People say, “No, because I personally have no proof.”

I’ve been keeping an open mind, because I was raised in a family that supported and attended a church.

Some people I like and admire have been atheists, and other people I do not like or respect have been church proponents or ministers. Of course, the flip side is also true, some atheists are uneducated and ignorant people while some religious people—apparently intelligent, thoughtful and insightful people–live and work in quiet faith that God exists and is a force for good in the world.

I want to believe that there is a loving, caring deity who will take our loved ones to heaven when they die. To know that such a place exists would give me comfort when I grieve for family that have passed on.

Do I believe that God does not exist because there are diseases, famines, wars, violent crime, terrorism, cruelty, corruption, and so forth? Not necessarily. What if our natural state of being inclines us to commit evil acts, and it is only through God’s intervention and guidance that people—the majority of people, I think–strive to be good, honest, and kind?

Why, if God exists, does he not enforce goodness and kindness by eliminating, counteracting or punishing all the perpetrators of evil and cruelty in the world? Well, maybe we are an experiment. Maybe God sent his son to earth (as Christians believe) to point us to the true way to live in peace, and once we were told, we were left to ourselves to make what we can of it.

If we’re failing—if we fail absolutely—we, and this planet we live on, may be destroyed. God may just wash his hands of Earth and its inhabitants and try another experiment on another planet once we’re done.

Also, there was the Noah’s ark story, and God’s promise to Noah that there would never be another flood to destroy the earth. The rainbow is the symbol of that promise. So, in other words, He would never again completely wipe out all life on the planet because we’re not living right.

Now God seen some sinnin’ and it gave Him a pain,

And He says “Stand back, I’m going to make it rain.”

He says “Hey brother Noah, I’ll tell you what to do,

Build me a floating zoo.

(lyrics from “The Unicorn” by The Irish Rovers)

Can I truly imagine that there is an omnipotent being that exists beyond time and space? I can’t even come to grips with the concept of time, nor space in its vastness, so perhaps that’s the purpose of the Holy Spirit, or its equivalent in other religions. We must experience the presence of God in our little world on this planet via this essence of God that moves among us everywhere on this earthly plane. It’s invisible, but perhaps accessible through meditation…that ‘still, small voice’ that guides us. Is that a bit fanciful? Maybe so. Maybe not.

1 Kings 19:11-13 King James Version (KJV)

11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:

12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?

I got started on all this because I received an e-mail from our church minister who is encouraging us all to pray this week. We’re to engage in prayerful meditation in whatever way we find suitable, and contemplate a specific Bible reading during that time. He’ll be guiding us by e-mail. (I don’t think I would dare unsubscribe.)

This is a new concept for me–e-mails from our church minister. If we stay away from church for months at a time, he can still reach us, it seems. Might be the way of the future. Soon there’ll be a way to submit our tithes and offerings through Paypal. I wouldn’t mind that, actually.

The minister calling us to pray this week raises the issue of prayer in general. Throughout my life, prayer has been advertised as a means of asking God for the things that we want.

So what does it mean when one has asked for something in prayer and has not received it?

Supposedly, we were sometimes told, because that thing was not considered by God to be suitable for us—for whatever reason. It might be that it was the wrong time for us to have it, or perhaps He has something better in mind for us, or maybe our faith is being tested—can we live with disappointment and not reject God for being unobliging when we’ve been on our best behaviour and asked nicely for something?   There were many reasons to help us deal with it, and not look at God askance.

But what if the thing that is prayed for is the restored health…the life…of a loved one? How could that be denied to us if we’ve prayed fervently and sincerely for it?

I’m not sure that we should regard prayer in the same light as writing to Santa Claus to give us the things that we want. Even when it’s the health of a loved one.

Some people seem to look at prayer as the opening of negotiations with God–a promise to make some concession and in return to receive whatever thing it is they want: “Just give me this thing, Lord, and I’ll stop binge-drinking/gambling/beating my children/kicking my cat”—or whatever.

No, I do not think that God would be amenable to such an unimpressive overture in the guise of prayer. Bargaining for something using your own bad behaviour is not quite in the spirit of the thing.

And I don’t believe we can say that our seriously ill loved one survived through God’s grace and mercy. God may be gracious and merciful, but I don’t think that we can say that He granted a reprieve for OUR loved one, unless we can explain why he didn’t grant the same for someone else. We’d have to resolve in our minds why God would save THIS worthy person from illness and death, and not THAT worthy person. Can we really say that one is better than the other, or more worth saving than the other? Did our family pray harder than that family? And what about innocent children suffering serious illness and death? Why would God save one and not another? So…can we really thank Him for saving a child if that divine act was completely arbitrary?

No, giving thanks for returning one child to health makes no sense if we cannot see why another child had to die.

We’d need to be able to explain why bad things happen to good people. And while we’re at it, why good things happen to bad people. If we accept the basic premise of religion…that benefits accrue to those who live virtuous lives, it seems senseless.

And since we are created in God’s image, He should not be surprised at these questions.

Genesis 1:27 King James Version (KJV)

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

I rather like that passage from the Bible. “MAN” was created in God’s image: MALE AND FEMALE.

Male AND female were created in God’s image, unless I’m missing something. So is God a hermaphrodite? Oh…I don’t think I want to go there. Forget I said that.

Back to the discussion of bad things happening to good people…we’re told that God is mysterious and wise, and we do not possess the ability to understand.

For me, that’s a little too convenient an explanation. We’re told that we cannot understand, so we must have faith, and that our reward for faith is that we will go to heaven when we die.

And what about people throughout history, living in bad conditions under oppressive governments being told by ‘The Church’ that their fate is in the hands of God, and they will be rewarded for their sufferings in heaven?

Karl Marx writes in Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right:

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.

We tend to hear Marx quoted as saying that “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” usually understood to mean that people submit quietly to societal or governmental abuses, poor living conditions, poverty, disease, whatever, when they believe that they will receive their reward in heaven. Religion then becomes the tool of a society or government for maintaining the stability of a populace under adverse conditions. It facilitates the continuation of abuses against a country’s citizenry, without incurring any risk of revolution.

That quote in isolation—and I haven’t studied Marx, so I don’t know in any great depth his thoughts on religion—tells me that he would like people to abandon religion as compensation for living under bad conditions. He evidently thinks that once that compensation is relinquished, people will—or ought to–set about righting the wrongs in their society.

That’s a good point. But he does say that religion is “the heart of a heartless world”—and that’s almost encouraging for people who wish to maintain their faith and religion. Since people today are far less likely to submit to governmental abuses without protest—religion or no religion—authoritarian uses of religion to subdue people and make them passive and accepting no longer apply.

Perhaps the best that can be done in support of religion is to promote the Bible lessons that point to ways of living that are peaceful and kind to all creatures. Whether atheist or not, people cannot object to those things. But that would mean cherry-picking from the Bible, which is touted to be the Word of God in its entirety.

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”   – Richard Dawkins

Well, there’s that, I suppose.

Is it possible that the Old Testament can simply be viewed as a flawed historical document with sections that are confusing, contradictory, or no longer relevant? Should we use only the New Testament as guidance?

I think that I will continue to observe the outward form of attending our little church when I can, out of respect for the memory of my parents at the very least, and try to come to terms with its teachings in a way that is meaningful and understandable to me. My faith will consist of believing that there is something in the Christian religion for us to use in living every day. I’m only speaking about Christianity at the moment, but I like Buddhism very much from what little I know about it, and Wicca has some appeal as well. Do those three seem contradictory? I don’t think they have to be. I think that if we study and meditate, seek openly and honestly for answers in all philosophies and religions, we will learn what we need to live a life of moral responsibility and kindness to others.

In other words, we aim for living a good life in which we love (as much as it is possible) and help one another, and foster peace and harmony in as many ways as we can. Does that mean ‘turning the other cheek’ when we are wronged by corrupt politicians or cheated by scammers, and just accept quietly and submissively whatever misfortunes come to us by way of our fellow humans?

Hmmm…don’t think so. It would be nice to float through life on a cloud of beneficent goodwill for everyone, but that does not necessarily help us—nor other people. Scammers need to be stopped from victimizing the elderly, governments need to be held accountable, injustices must be routed wherever they are found.

I’m remembering the story of Jesus physically driving the merchants and money changers out of the temple. Two of those accounts, from the book of John and of Matthew are below:

John 2:13-16 King James Version (KJV)

13 And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:

15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.

And that same incident related in Matthew…

Matthew 21:12-13 King James Version (KJV)

12 And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Jesus, in these accounts, whipped the merchants and money changers and overthrew their tables. In so doing, he took action not only against the fact that they were defiling a house of worship by their presence—turning the temple into a marketplace–but also making it a ‘den of thieves,’ no doubt by cheating people in their business transactions.

Following his example, I think we should not submissively turn the other cheek when we are being cheated. We should reserve the right to complain when we see that things–large and small–in this world are not right and ought to be changed. We should not worry that speaking up and saying things that are ‘negative’ in tone reflects badly on us. It’s the right thing to do; for our fellow humans, for all things bright and beautiful in this world, and all creatures great and small.

But we probably shouldn’t whip anyone, okay?


Therefore, be ye also ready…

To my dear Dad, a gentle gentleman, whom I grieve to have lost in recent days.
To my dear Mom, whose memory I cherish; she was a sparkling font of wisdom.
To my dear Aunties, Marjorie, Patricia, Jane and Maisie for their keen interest in family and family history.

They have all ‘gone on ahead’ but they are my inspiration.

We start this genealogy article with a memento mori—sorry to depress you right off the mark, but it’s a reminder that we all have to die. This one comes to you courtesy of the Petrie monument above the family vault in Sligo Cemetery, one side of which you can see in the banner of this article.

Every tombstone by its very nature is a memento mori, I suppose, but the inscription here really drives the point home. If we read between ‘the line,’ it says, “I was mortal like you and I have died—so keep your affairs in order since the same could happen to you at any time.” Actually, given the times, this warning probably had less to do with keeping your finances in order than keeping your soul in good shape for St. Peter’s entrance-to-heaven examination. (Because it might be a pop-quiz.)

In my teens I used to like the following inscription on a grave monument for its ‘chills-down-the-spine factor’:

Remember, friend, as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be.
Prepare for death, and follow me.

I’ve lost my desire to have that on my own tombstone, however. The Petrie monument inscription has more appeal for its brevity and understatement, although the implication that ‘the worst’ could happen at any moment had, perhaps, a little more impact in the age before antibiotics and modern pharmaceuticals. (Blithely disregarding for the moment the fact that some modern pharmaceuticals might polish you off faster than your disease ever would.)

Back then a myriad of diseases and conditions, from tuberculosis to an abscessed tooth, could carry you off to ‘a better world’ with little opposition from the world of medicine. That’s not to say that we don’t have our share of such things in this day and age–call to witness the growing list of antibiotic-resistant superbugs–but our chances of making old bones have vastly improved since the 19th century. There are fewer cholera epidemics from contaminated water supplies, for one thing. For another, more babies survive beyond infancy, and considerably fewer women die as a result of childbirth.

In those days (and our main focus is the 19th century, incidentally), life was a precarious proposition, and especially in the endeavour of procreation. Marriage must have taken great courage on the part of young women. If they, themselves, did not die while having a child, the odds of escaping the monumental heartbreak of burying that child in a few short years were very much against them. Three of my great-grandfather’s four sisters died in their 20’s. One was buried along with her 10-week-old daughter, who died the day after her. More on that later…

I read something a while ago on Jenny Lawson’s blog site that resonated with me. She remembers as a child her grandmother telling her about HER grandmother (her grandmother’s grandmother) from Bohemia, and since Jenny has no photographs of her Bohemian great-great grandmother, she drew a picture of her from her imagination. In the intricate design around the circular border, Jenny inscribed the words: “I miss the people I never met but who made me who I am– and the people I have yet to meet who will make me who I will become.”

While we are, or ought to be, a work in progress until our dying day, I think it’s fair to say that external influences factor into our development much less in later years. However, I can say that I also “miss the people I never met but who made me who I am.” That one statement encapsulates my feelings about my ancestors. I want to know them and I can’t, so I hunt for details about their lives.

I read about what was going on socially and politically at the time in the places they lived, what things they might have done to accomplish daily household tasks, what sort of food they might have eaten, what illnesses they might have suffered, what medical remedies they might have used, what grief they experienced, what financial reverses they endured, what difficulties and impediments they encountered with travel and communications…and so on.

There are scads of things to learn, and a little intuition and rudimentary sleuthing applied to the bare facts provided by marriage and birth registers, census information, obituary notices, etc., can provide an interesting–if not entirely accurate–picture.

And so I feel as though in telling the story of my ancestors’ lives I’m painting an Impressionist landscape–all atmospheric glimmers of light and deepening tints of shadow, behind a watery curtain.

Back to the inscription on Jenny’s imaginary portrait of her great-great-grandmother…I would say that there are basically two ways that our ancestors have made us who we are…

First, by influencing essential morality and lifestyle choices. In cultures where story-telling is a tradition, the elder members of a family might pass on family values from one generation to the next by featuring in their anecdotes an ancestor with personal attributes they consider worthy of praise. One would rarely hear family stories that feature no-good Uncle Earl who wasted his life and dragged the family name through the muck—unless one has strayed from the straight and narrow path, and requires a moralizing lecture!

We have a decision to make when we hear these things. We might accept those family values and use them as guidelines for our own lives—or we might reject them, for whatever reason, and live our lives in such a way as to be as far in contravention of them as possible. Either way, our families have an influence on our outlook and worldview, for good or ill.

Another way our ancestors make us who we are is biological, and we’re learning more and more all the time about the influence of our DNA on the likelihood of developing certain diseases.

But might there also be something in our DNA that predisposes us to have a particular outlook on life? Is it possible that character traits can be passed down to later generations through our genes?

Consider Ernest Hemingway’s family…not only did he commit suicide, but also his father, two of his siblings, and his granddaughter. Is it possible that our genetic heritage can be the source of such attributes as fortitude or fearfulness, patience or impatience, optimism or pessimism? I’m sure that many of us have heard a relative say that a member of the younger generation is “so much like” an older relative in terms of temperament. It makes one wonder.

I really believe that introverts and extroverts (or the particular mix of both that most people are), are born that way, and not necessarily created by early life experiences. So, can that core character attribute be genetic?

Jenny had to draw an imaginary portrait of her great-great-grandmother, and so would I, since I have no photographs of my paternal great-great grandparents George and Mary (Coghill) Bain, or William and Elizabeth (Williamson) Petrie, or George William and Bridget (Boone) Bartlett, or my great-grandmother Elizabeth (Bishop) Bartlett’s parents (for whom I do not even have a name at this point in time), or my great-great grandparents on my mother’s side, Michael and Amelia (Perry) Foote, John and Susanna (Wiseman) Adams, Isaac and Caroline (White) Rideout, and the parents of my great-grandmother Mary Jane (Wilcox) Foote–whomever they might be!

That’s 16 people who are my great-great grandparents. Of course we all have that, as well as eight great-grandparents and four grandparents. My eight great-grandparents are surnamed Petrie/Bain, Bartlett/Bishop, Rideout/Adams, and Foote/Wilcox. My grandparents are surnamed Petrie/Bartlett (paternal) and Foote/Rideout (maternal).

Great-grandparents are near enough in time to find traces of in photographs–if we’re lucky–and in our parents’ memories of their grandparents, if they knew them. I have a 1916-ish photograph of Thomas and Mary Jane (Wilcox) Foote, my mother’s paternal grandparents, as well as a few anecdotes which hint at their characters.

I also have photos of my father’s maternal grandparents, Isaac William and Elizabeth (Bishop) Bartlett, as well as letters and family history relating to them. And photos of my father’s paternal grandparents, Alexander and Georgina (Bain) Petrie, and a great deal of family history relating to them. My mother’s maternal grandparents, John and Charlotte (Adams) Rideout, are a bit of a mystery, since Mom’s mother died a few months after her birth, and…well, it’s a long story, which I’ll reserve for another time.

The most extensive family photographic record I have is for my father’s side of the family…the Bartletts and the Petries.

Since I’ll be talking about the Petries in this article, here is a photograph of my great-grandparents, Alexander and Georgina Petrie…

2 Alexander and Georgina

I’ll be talking backwards, forwards, and all around them (in time)—but they will be the anchor and central focus of this article.

So, what can we tell from the photograph of Alexander and Georgina? Not very much, although it appears that my great-grandmother was petite in stature, and her facial features incline me to say that she had a mild temperament. On the other hand, it is more difficult to guess at Alexander’s personality from his photographic image. He does not engage with the camera as this portrait is being taken, which was in keeping with the fashion of the time.   Even so, something about his image made me wonder whether he might have been a stern type of person.

It was therefore a delightful surprise to see him described in James P. Howley’s book, as “a jolly, witty Irishman from the Black North.” [Howley, James P. Reminiscences of Forty-Two Years of Exploration in and about Newfoundland., May, 2009 (St. John’s: Memorial University) p. 1300]

Howley was a geologist doing survey work for the government, and he stayed at The Petrie Hotel when he was in The Bay of Islands area of Newfoundland. He met my great grandfather on a number of occasions, and—bless him forever—wrote about it.

Howley’s comment about ‘The Black North’ has to do with the Roman Catholic-Protestant issues afoot in Newfoundland and elsewhere at the time. ‘The Black North’ refers to Protestantism. Here’s a bit about Howley’s background from Wikipedia that should explain the remark: “James Patrick Howley’s father, a prominent businessman and financial secretary of Newfoundland, had arrived in St John’s from Ireland in 1804. His sons formed an interesting group; they included Michael Francis, the first native-born bishop of Newfoundland, and Thomas, a surgeon in the American Civil War.”

Yes, James P. Howley’s brother was the first native-born bishop of Newfoundland. His remark about Alexander was a bit ‘tongue-in-cheek’ I think. He was an intelligent, engaging man, and I liked him after reading his ‘Reminiscences.”

Howley refers to Alexander in much the same way in at least two other places in the book. On first meeting my great grandfather, Howley says, “Petrie himself is quite a jolly fellow.” (p. 1200) And after seeing him again after an absence, Howley says, “Petrie is as jolly as ever.” (p. 1211) So it seems that Alexander was a personable type of man, in spite of his photographic image.

Look at his eyes in the photo below. I’d guess that he was a vital man with a strong personality, in addition to being thoroughly congenial company. It’s tragic that he died at only 47 years of age. His ‘Last Will and Testament’ supports that sentiment, since there are indications in that document that he was a thoughtful husband and caring father.

1 Alexander Petrie

I wish I had some of the letters Alexander and Georgina must have written from Newfoundland to their brothers and sisters back in Ireland and Scotland. They might have spoken of such daily concerns as food supplies and clothing–their availability, cost, and suchlike–to give their family members in ‘the old country’ a sense of what life was like in the new. At the same time, I believe I might have been able to glean bits of their character from their words.

My great-grandmother Georgina was the daughter of a ‘Free Church’ Scottish school teacher from the city of Wick in the county of Caithness in northeastern Scotland, so her letter-writing skills must have been every bit as good as her husband’s in an era when female education may have been more practical and domestic than academic. I feel quite certain that she must have written to her family in Scotland.

As for letters in general…I’m a person who cannot throw a letter in the garbage after I’ve read it. It will go in my ‘archive’ shoebox…or, actually, shoeboxes, at this point in time. Even Christmas cards with a small paragraph or two must be squirrelled away.

Family documents of this nature are beyond value to some of us. Too often these records are lost when people who do not know or appreciate their importance become custodians through inheritance. I’m sure that most of us have heard horror stories of someone’s relative being given the responsibility of clearing out an elderly or deceased parent’s home, and kicking all the family papers and photo albums to the curb.

Of course it could be that a letter recipient will answer the letter received, and then just trash it. Not everyone keeps letters (hard to understand, but there you are!). So, while I’m sure that there would have been plenty of letters sent by both Alexander and Georgina, none of that correspondence has likely survived.

Mind you, in spite of that, I cherish hopes that someone ‘over there’—Scotland or Ireland–may have a treasure trove of family correspondence from years ago in an old box in a dusty attic, just awaiting discovery.

But although I have nothing written by my great grandparents, I do have a letter written to ‘Georgy’ by her brother-in-law, my great-uncle William Petrie, brother of Alexander.

It’s dated May 10th or 18th of 1894, almost two years after Alexander’s death in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, on July 29, 1892, and I believe it concerns Alexander’s property in Ireland, of which I’m sure the widowed Georgina had need.

When Alexander died in 1892 of ‘stomach cancer’ (in quotes because I’m repeating family lore, with no evidence to support it), Georgina was 45 years old, with four children ages 16 (William), 13 (John), 8 (Ethel), and 5 (Annie), and she was continuing to operate the family business, The Petrie Hotel, as a means of supporting the family.

At the time of her brother-in-law’s letter in 1894, two years after Alexander died, Georgina would have been age 47, and her children ages 18, 15, 10, and 7. No doubt her sons were beginning to be of help in running the hotel, but my guess is that she was struggling.

Here’s a photo of the family ca 1899. I guess the date based on the age of the youngest of the family, Annie (left front), whom I would say to be around age 12. If that’s right, then Ethel (right front) would be 15, John (standing, left) would be 20 (b. December of 1878), and William (standing right) would be 24. Georgina would be 52.

3 Family photo after Alexander died, maybe 1898, Wm 22, John 20, etc

Back to the letter…William has written on stationery printed with ‘William Petrie’ at top left and a drawing of a fish immediately below his name. Beginning at centre top are printed the words “Fishery Office” set off by a scrollwork design:

4 Wm Petrie letter to Georgy, top portion

The letter contents are below…

Dear Georgy–

Your letter to hand this morning. I am sorry to learn the contents of it. & I have had a very trying time myself since my father died keeping all things going as when he died he left everything in a bad way—over £2,200 due to the National Bank Ballina & interest and he lodged Alick’s life insurance, my own, & his as security & I have not got mine as yet although my father is dead 10 years this fall. All through I thought George and Tom were corresponding with you. George was at a Fair last February. I heard him say he was going to send you something as he got the benefit of Alick’s and my father’s insurance–

Tom was telling me that Willie mentioned in a letter to him that he intended coming home this summer. We shall be delighted to see him—

A very severe winter just [over?] here and was very much against the spring fishery—

I am getting up in years myself and have 7 grandchildren.

I am writing George this week regarding your letter.

With kind regards,

Yrs Sincerely,

Wm Petrie

There is much to be learned from these few words.

First, William appears to have been a good man, and we know from the newspaper articles reporting his death—which occurred just six months after he wrote this letter—that he was very much appreciated by the townsfolk of Sligo, Ireland.

5 snippet of Wm Petrie Jr funeral article, Nov, 1894

As the newspaper article describing his funeral procession stated: “The number of carriages, traps, and other vehicles present were computed to number about 200, and they made up a double row of about a mile long.” Then there were all the marchers on foot…the Masons, the session and committee of the Presbyterian Church, the members of the Corporation and the Harbour Board…and the “great multitude of the general public.”

There were other articles about William in the newspapers after his death, and I’ll just provide a portion of this one from the Sligo Independent newspaper of November 24, 1894. The excerpt is a bit lengthy, but it is useful beyond its purpose as a character portrait; providing, as it does, some biographical information that will help you to follow subsequent information in this article–although I have to say that there is some misinformation. When William’s father died, he did not become sole owner of the fisheries. His brother Alexander (my great-grandfather) was co-owner at the time. The writer of this article would not have been aware of Alexander’s existence, since Alexander had been living in Newfoundland for around 20 years—from 1872/3 up until his death in 1892, two years before William’s. I’ve broken the article into paragraphs, for easier reading…

“It is with feelings of the deepest sorrow that we have this week to announce the death, after a short illness, of Mr. William Petrie, of Carrowroe House, the well-known proprietor of the Sligo salmon fisheries. The deceased gentleman was highly esteemed by all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance. Of an open and generous nature, his purse was always ready to help the poor and needy, and no one ever called in vain for his assistance.

It is some forty-four or forty-five years since Mr. Petrie first came to Sligo with his father from the town of Errol, in Perthshire, Scotland, and during the latter’s lifetime Mr. Petrie assisted him on his numerous farms and in the extensive fishing operations which he carried on all around the Sligo coast. At his father’s death, which occurred some ten years ago, Mr. Petrie became sole owner of all his valuable fisheries. He continued to carry on the farming, but his energies were principally directed towards improving and extending the fisheries, thus giving employment to many who would otherwise have had a hard struggle for existence.

At the Rosses Point he was a veritable prince, the people there coming to him for advice and help in times of trouble. The great influence which he had with rich and poor alike was always exerted as a means of doing good, and many a poor fisherman and struggling toiler has good cause to bless his name. Of Mr. Petrie it can be truly said he was most happy when doing good to others. The bathers at the Point will long regret the death of a sincere friend. The deceased was always thinking of their safety and comfort, providing bathing stages and life-buoys, and in many little ways showing his interest in them.

The Presbyterian Church, of which Mr. Petrie was a member, laments the loss of, perhaps, its most generous and valued adherent. His name always headed the list in any good work, and it was chiefly through his instrumentality and influence that a sufficient sum was raised with which to erect a church at Rosses Point for the convenience of visitors during the summer months. Needless to say, his own name appeared at the top of the subscriptions with a handsome donation. It is sad to reflect that he did not live to see this favourite scheme of his become a reality. Yet the influence of his benevolent actions while in life will be felt as time rolls on, and his friends and relations will be comforted when they review a life nobly spent in works of kindness and charity.

On all sides the poor people are heard loudly lamenting the loss of one who brightened many a dark hour for them, and brought comfort to them in their affliction.

The children, too, have lost a loving friend, whose kindly heart beat in sympathy with them in their little joys and sorrows. He was a true friend, a loving and tender husband, and an affectionate and indulgent father…”

…and on it goes!   One has to wonder how it is possible for any human to have achieved that level of perfection, but I think we can at least stand ready to salute him for the level of public admiration that he evidently inspired.

Mind you, while it’s good to know that he was a generous and charitable man, the suspicion arises that he may have given until it hurt—since the value of his estate at death was somewhat less than one would expect. Below is an excerpt from a registry of wills…

6 will registry for Wm Jr

£2420 in today’s money would be £288,647.59
Converted to USD = $358,197.59
Converted to CAD = $478,981.81

This seems respectable enough, except that we know the Petries were extremely wealthy at one point in time, so by this account their fortunes were much reduced from formerly. Also, William’s cousin, Charles Petrie of Liverpool, seems to be his executor, and not his brothers who were living near to him in Ireland. Ominously, Charles is described in the registry as “a Creditor.” We must pause to wonder how much of the estate value would be going to cousin Charles.

Charles, incidentally, would have been age 41 in 1894, and at this point in time he was approximately seven years away from election to Lord Mayor of Liverpool (1901), and being awarded a knighthood subsequent to his term in office. He was raised from knighthood to baronetcy in 1918.

This is from Wikipedia: “Petrie had salmon fisheries in Scotland and Ireland, and oyster fisheries in Ireland, at Fleetwood and in Essex. He was leader of the Liverpool Conservatives, knighted in 1903 after his term as Lord Mayor, and created a baronet in 1918. He was a Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire.”

While Charles may have been an agent for the Petrie Fishery when he first arrived in Liverpool, I believe his own independent fishing interests eventually took precedence. There may have continued to be an affiliation, but not in the way that there once was.

Another thing of note from my great-uncle William’s short letter to my great-grandmother Georgina is his remark that he had seven grandchildren and was “getting up in years.” Would it surprise you to know that he was only 53 years of age at this time? Perhaps he was experiencing some ill health. We can’t know, of course, but we do know that his letter preceded his funeral by just six months.

The following is another death announcement for William (there was no shortage!); this one from The Daily Express newspaper, Friday, November 23, 1894. A transcript follows, for better readability.

7 section of another article, Wm Petrie Jr. funeral


Sligo, Thursday

This morning at nine o’clock Mr. William Petrie, T.C., a prominent figure in the social and political life of Sligo during the past thirty years passed away at the comparatively early age of 54 years. He had been a member of the Sligo Corporation, Harbour Board, Board of Guardians, and Fishery Conservation, where his common sense and energy, in conjunction with his impartiality, were greatly appreciated. At the time of his death he was, in fact, a candidate for municipal honours. He handed in his own nomination on Friday, being then apparently in his normal health, but on Saturday morning he was struck down with Bright’s disease, and never rallying, died this morning. Today all the shops in the town are shuttered, and the flags on the vessels in the harbour are at half-mast.

This little article is useful in telling us something about the nature of the illness that killed him. It seems that he wasn’t ill for very long.

“Bright’s disease” was a sort-of catch-all term for kidney disease, but perhaps more specifically, nephritis…inflammation of the parts of the kidney responsible for the production of urine. It can be acute or chronic, and is considered hereditary–one of the most common genetic diseases. Nephritis causes a build-up of fluid in the body, with resultant high blood pressure, and a variety of other symptoms—none of them pleasant. As this article seems to indicate, William had the acute form, and it took him down, hard.

Returning to William’s letter to Georgina yet again…another thing to learn from it is that mail delivery is not all that one would wish for in terms of efficiency. She wrote to him March 30, 1894; he received it May 9th or 17th of 1894. So, the letter took at least five weeks to go from the Bay of Islands on the west coast of Newfoundland to Sligo on the north coast of Ireland. Much like Christmas card deliveries by our modern postal services. (gratuitous dig at the Canadian post office)

Postal delivery within Newfoundland in 1872, around the time that Alexander first arrived in Newfoundland, was fairly abysmal as well. The excerpt from Rev. Rule’s reminiscences below tells us that it took almost two months for a letter to go from St. John’s on the Avalon peninsula (southeastern Newfoundland) to Birchy Cove in the Bay of Islands (western Newfoundland).

In case you’re wondering about Rev. Rule, he was the first resident Church of England clergyman posted to the northwest coast during the period 1865 to 1872, and made Birchy Cove his headquarters. Birchy Cove was later named Curling in honour of Rev. Rule’s successor, Rev. J. J. Curling, whose tenure lasted for approximately 16 years, 1873 to 1889. Curling is now incorporated into the town of Corner Brook, Newfoundland.

This (below) is from a letter written by Rev. Rule to a correspondent in St. John’s on February 14, 1872…

“Yesterday I received a letter from you dated December 18th, and I have this good news to tell you that the stamp put on it brought it all the way to Bay of Islands without any additional charge. We are it seems, fairly within range of the post office; so that instead of paying an Indian letter carrier a dollar for each letter from the nearest post office at Channel, now we have a post office here and another at Bonne Bay. The postage from here to St. John’s is three cents, but there are no postage stamps here yet …

The despatch of letters just spoken of was the first despatch of “government” mail we have ever had in winter in Bay of Islands…”

[Rule, Rev. U.Z., Reminiscences of My Life, Dicks and Co. Ltd., St. John’s, NL, 1927]

Mail had to come by ship from St. John’s to the post office in Channel, near Port aux Basques–there being no roads linking the east and west coasts of Newfoundland. From Channel, another means of transportation had to be found to carry the mail to the communities further up the west coast. In wintertime, at least, an Indian ‘runner’ (probably using a dog sled) had to be hired to make the overland trip to Birchy Cove.

As for the key content of my great-uncle William Petrie’s letter to my great-grandmother Georgina, no doubt the news he was “sorry to learn” in 1894, had to do with financial difficulties for the Petrie family in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland. Two years later, in 1896, my great-grandfather Alexander’s estate was sued for bankruptcy. He had been dead for four years at the time of that lawsuit.

I expect that the family business, The Petrie Hotel, suffered both from Alexander’s death, and from the troubles that rocked Newfoundland to her core over the next couple of years.

First, we’ll step back to the month of Alexander’s death, July of 1892. The great St. John’s fire happened that same month. There was massive devastation from the fire, and since St. John’s was the centre of Newfoundland commerce and government, there was more than the charred remains of homes and businesses to cope with in its aftermath. I suspect that the later economic crisis (December of 1894), can trace its roots to that catastrophic event.

8 Stjohns_afterthefire1892

attrib PD-US, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1800393%5D

This description of the years immediately following Alexander’s death gives us an idea of how bad things were:

“Our successive disasters, the fire of 1892, and the jarring of the political factions, seemed enough to fill up the cup of our woe; but worse was in store for us. Up to fatal Black Monday, 10th December 1894, Newfoundland credit stood high. Our principal monetary institution, the Union Bank, had for forty years maintained the highest reputation at home and abroad; suddenly credit, financial reputation, confidence in both mercantile houses and banks, fell like a house of cards. For several days we were the most distracted country in the world—a community without a currency; the notes of the banks had been the universal money of the Colony—circulating as freely as gold on Saturday, on Monday degraded to worthless paper.


The misery caused by these failures of banks and mercantile houses was as disastrous, as widespread, and as universal within our border as the bursting of the South Sea bubble was in the United Kingdom.”

[Prowse, D.W., History of Newfoundland, Boulder Publications Ltd., Edition 2007, orig. published: London, Macmillan and Co., 1895.]

The book that I’m quoting from was written by D. W. Prowse in 1895, when the effects of the St. John’s fire of 1892 and the financial collapse of 1894 were still fresh. Prowse’s description of the financial crisis brings to mind the stock market crash on Tuesday, October 29, 1929, but Newfoundland’s Black Monday of 1894 preceded Black Tuesday of 1929 by 35 years.

The St. John’s fire began on July 8, 1892. Great-grandfather Alexander died twenty-one days later, on the 29th, having written his will on the 3rd day of that same month, clearly in expectation that his days were numbered. But as for the fire, he and his family were living on the west coast of Newfoundland, and would not have seen any of the devastation first-hand–even had they been able to look beyond their own troubles during that terrible month.

The capital city of St. John’s is on the Avalon peninsula on the southeastern tip of the island of Newfoundland. That is 416 km (258 miles), as the crow flies, but the direct route across central Newfoundland is impossible, even today. In the 19th century, and for perhaps the better part of the 20th, people had to take “the long way ‘round.” Coastal boats connected the various settlements of people, small outports mainly, which basically rimmed the island.

Newfoundland is the 16th largest island in the world; slightly smaller than New Zealand’s North Island, and slightly larger than Cuba or Iceland.

Here’s a size comparison between my Great-Grandfather Alexander’s former home island (Ireland) and his new home island (Newfoundland). The population statistics are from the year 2015.

Newfoundland (Canada); area: 108,860 km2; population: 479,105

Ireland (Republic of Ireland and United Kingdom); area: 84,421 km2; population: 6,378,000


In 1869, just prior to Alexander’s arrival in Newfoundland, and six years before his marriage to Georgina in Bay of Islands, the population of Newfoundland was 146,536. [Side note: That year Newfoundland rejected confederation with Canada in the elections.]

In July, 1892, in the absence of telephone communications, people in the Bay of Islands on the west coast of Newfoundland would have heard about the St. John’s fire by telegraph—that service being established to Birchy Cove in 1878. Other communities in 1890s Bay of Islands were Sprucy Point, pop. 101 (which became the judicial centre in the 1890s), Bannantyne’s Cove (pop. 117), Pleasant Cove (pop. 80), and Petries—named for great-grandfather Alexander—with a population of 48.

Petries is still known as such today, although it, like Curling/Birchy Cove, is now incorporated into the city of Corner Brook. There were two other areas of the Bay of Islands known as Petries Point and Petries Crossing, also named for Alexander, as well as Petries Valley, and a waterway called Petries Brook.

The population of Petries increased a little from these early days, as can be seen from each successive Newfoundland census. But in the census of 1945, the population of Petries was still no more than 658.

9 map showing Petries and Corner Brook

[Decks Awash, Vol. 18, No. 1, Jan-Feb 1989, Memorial University, Centre for Newfoundland Studies, p. 2]

The previous ‘great’ fire in St. John’s, that of 1846, “began with the upsetting of a glue-pot in the shop of Hamelin the cabinet-maker; the still greater fire of July 1892 commenced in a stable, and was, in all probability, caused by the spark from a careless labourer’s pipe. Commencing on a fine summer’s evening, fanned by a high wind, the fire burnt all through the night, and in the bright dawn of that ever-memorable 9th of July, ten thousand people found themselves homeless, a forest of chimneys and heaps of ashes marking where the evening before had stood one of the busiest and most flourishing towns in the maritime provinces.” [Prowse, pp. 521-2]

Here is a description from Prowse of the aftermath of the St. John’s fire:

“A walk through the deserted streets demonstrated that the ruin was even more complete than seemed possible at first. Of the whole easterly section scarcely a building remained. In the extreme north-east a small section of Hoylestown was standing protected by massive Devon Row, the remainder of St. John’s east had vanished. Of the immense shops and stores which displayed such varied merchandise and valuable stocks gathered from all parts of the known world; of the happy homes of artisans and middle classes…of the comfortable houses…of the costly and imposing structures and public buildings…scarcely a vestige remained…” [Prowse, p. 528]

And so July of 1892 was a calamitous month for both the Petrie family of Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, and the residents of Newfoundland’s capital city, St. John’s.

This small obituary was posted in the Harbour Grace Standard newspaper on August 30, 1892…

9.5 obit from Harbour Grace

[Mr. Petrie, a well known merchant of Bay of Islands, died at that place Saturday last after a lingering illness.]

Corner Brook on the map below will take you very close to the Bay of Islands. I suppose that Alexander was lucky to have attracted any notice to his passing, given the events of July of 1892. Interesting that there was no other identifier than “Mr. Petrie” in his obituary. Evidently there could be only one “Mr. Petrie,” so no other distinguishing marks were necessary.

10 map of NL, Harbour Grace to Corner Brook

Harbour Grace, as you can see on the map, is on the opposite side, the southeast coast, on Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula. It was a significant commercial centre at that time in 1892, having a population in excess of 6,486 (this number comes from the election roll returns).

I don’t know Alexander’s connection to this place, but for his obituary to have been published in the Harbour Grace newspaper, he must have been known to various people there. Possibly the Petrie fishery, when it was operating in Newfoundland, would have been a presence in Harbour Grace—their ships, at least.

[Side note, and unrelated!: Harbour Grace was popular to pirates in the 17th century, with ‘The Pirate King’ Peter Easton having his headquarters for some years after 1602, as well as pirate Henry Mainwaring, after 1614. One of them (Easton) retired to what later became Monaco, in which place he was known as the ‘Marquis of Savoy,’ supposedly with 2 million pounds of gold underwriting his retirement. Mainwaring was knighted by King James I in 1618.]

Of course, Alexander may have been known to people in Harbour Grace who might have stayed in The Petrie Hotel when they visited the west coast.

Alexander and Georgina Petrie had been operating The Petrie Hotel for some years before Alexander died (possibly more than 10), and it was, as are hotels everywhere, dependent on business travellers and vacationers. It could be that the hotel’s Newfoundland business dropped off after the St. John’s fire of 1892, with many travellers staying close to home while reconstruction of the capital city was underway.

There would probably have continued to be visitors from the Canadian mainland, but I suspect that the usual American vacationers were scarce, especially in the year following Alexander’s death…1893.

That year, 1893, was a bad one for the U.S.

The Panic of 1893 was a serious economic depression in the United States that began in 1893 and ended in 1897. As a result of the panic, stock prices declined, 500 banks closed, 15,000 businesses failed, and numerous farms ceased operation. The unemployment rate hit 25% in Pennsylvania, 35% in New York, and 43% in Michigan. Soup kitchens were opened to help feed the destitute. The Northern Pacific Railway, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad failed.

Then there were the hurricanes. In August 1893 a major hurricane, known as the “Sea Islands Hurricane” struck the offshore barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina. Over 1,000 people were killed (mostly by drowning); and 30,000 or more were left homeless. The “Cheniere Caminada Hurricane,” Sep 27 1893 to Oct 5 1893, killed nearly 2,000 persons, the vast majority from coastal Southeastern Louisiana.

Also, assuming that the Americans who normally visited the West coast of Newfoundland for vacations were not affected by the Panic of 1893 or the hurricanes, they might still have decided to spend their time and money on a visit to the Chicago World’s Fair, which commemorated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the New World. It opened on May 1, 1893, and over the next six months had more than 26 million visitors.

10.5 Chicago World's Fair 1893

My guess is that The Petrie Hotel may not have entertained its usual quota of American visitors in 1893.

Hard times for a wee Scottish widow-woman with four children. That she was no stranger to hard times must have been a help to her…

She had been widowed for the first time in her mid-20s (ca. 1873) when her first husband, John Campbell, whom she married on November 4, 1870, died. They were both 23 years old at the time of their marriage…

11 Campbell and Bain marriage, Nov. 4, 1870

She had lost her only child (Mary Jane Campbell, b. October 30, 1871) from that first marriage.

12 Mary Jane Campbell birth registration

While I haven’t yet found the death registry for either John or Mary Jane, I wonder whether John may have been ill at the time of Mary Jane’s birth. Note that the fathers signed the birth registry for the other two babies recorded on the same page as Mary Jane, and that Georgina’s name was written in by the registrar. (Perhaps the registrar didn’t realize that Georgina could write, and never thought to ask.) It’s also possible that John, whose occupation was ‘Commercial Traveller, fish trade’ was just away at the time. The birth was recorded by Georgina on November 15, a little over two weeks after the baby was born.

Both of Georgina’s parents died shortly after Mary Jane’s birth. Her father, George Bain, was the first to go, dying at age 58 on March 19 of 1872, when his granddaughter was five months old (assuming she was still alive).

13 George Bain death announcement

Georgina’s mother, Mary (Coghill) Bain died the next year, on September 16 of 1873, at age 67. George and Mary were buried in the same plot with their 17-year-old daughter, Jane, Georgina’s sister, who died in 1857 of a fever. I believe the gravestone shows Mary’s age as 65, but her birth year was 1806, and her baptism was on March 28, 1806, which would make her age 67 in September of 1873.

14 tombstone, George, Jane and Mary Bain

The card announcing George Bain’s decease includes the information that he was an “F.C. Teacher”—which means that he was one of the 408 teachers who joined the breakaway Free Church after The Disruption of 1843. “The Free Church was formed by Evangelicals who broke from the Church of Scotland in 1843 in protest against what they regarded as the state’s encroachment on the spiritual independence of the Church.” [Wikipedia] This was an attack on the patronage system, which gave rich landowners the right to select local ministers.

Here’s a news item from the John O’Groats Journal of July 18, 1845, in which my great-grandfather George Bain is mentioned:

July 18 1845 JOGJ (School Examination East Banks GB) John OGroats Journal

“Pulteneytown” which is also shown on the death notice, was a planned town which is now incorporated into the city of Wick in the county of Caithness, Scotland. It came into being in 1808 after The British Fisheries Society commissioned Thomas Telford to design both a new harbour for Wick, and the town, which was to be located south of the river. Pulteneytown was named for Sir William Pulteney, who was the former governor of The British Fisheries Society.

George Bain appears to have died of heart disease, according to the death registry:

15 George Bain, death registry page, shows fathers name

Georgina’s sister, Jane Bain, apparently had a fever for 22 days, and died on July 2, 1857. The registry page appears to have her father’s actual signature on it.

16 Jane Bain, Georgina sister, died age 17, 22-day fever, father signature

Note that on Jane Bain’s death registry page, as well as her father’s, the address is shown as “Francis Street” in Pulteneytown. Georgina’s register of baby Mary Jane Campbell’s birth showed that the baby was born on Francis Street—so possibly John and Georgina were living with her parents. It’s also possible that Georgina went home by herself to have her baby at her parents’ home, with John to join her later. Or maybe John and Georgina lived on the same street as her parents. Or possibly John was no longer in the family picture, and Georgina was widowed and living with her parents…?  At the moment, I just don’t know.

Georgina was living in Perth at the time of her marriage to John Campbell, since the address given for her at that time was 40 Glover Street, Perth. That was also where the marriage took place. Georgina’s older brother, Donald, was a witness. Donald Bain was born in 1842, so he was age 28 in November of 1870 when Georgina and John married. I’m wondering if the house at 40 Glover Street was Donald’s.

John Campbell also had a brother named Donald.

In the 1871 Scottish census, four months after John and Georgina’s marriage, they were living in an apartment building at 54 Fisher Street in the Civil Parish of Springburn in Glasgow with John’s parents and brother: John Campbell, Sr., age 60, occupation: Druggist’s porter, his wife Rachael, age 59, and their son, Donald Campbell, age 21, occupation: Grocer’s porter. The occupation of Georgina’s husband was “Commercial Traveller, Fish Trade” in the census records. Both Georgina and John were 24 years of age at that time. Everyone is recorded as having been born in Wick in Caithness, except for John Sr., who was born in Inverness.

The census was taken early April of 1871 (April 2/3). I would guess that Georgina was two months pregnant with Mary Jane at that time.

17 1871 Census Scotland Georgina Bain Campbell

This map of Scotland will show you where Georgina’s birthplace–Wick–was in relation to Perth where she was married, and to Glasgow where she lived with her husband and his family after their marriage:

18.5 Map of Scotland

Glasgow and it’s citizens were suffering the effects of a severe housing shortage at the time Georgina and John went to live with his family. There had been an influx of people from the highlands to population centres due to the potato famine and the clearances. Rents were high (due to demand), and wages low (due to competition). Crowded living conditions promoted the spread of disease, especially tuberculosis…

“That tuberculosis was an infectious disease carried by a bacillus was not realised until 1884, and it took much longer to eradicate. In the period 1861-1870, TB killed 361 in every 100,000; in 1901-1910 it was still high at 209. It took until the 1940s and the discovery of penicillin for respiratory diseases like TB to be brought under control. Until that time they remained the main killer.” [Knox, W. W., A History of the Scottish People, Health in Scotland 1840-1940, Chapter 3]

“In Glasgow, one-third of deaths in 1870 were from respiratory conditions, especially tuberculosis (consumption, or TB).”


“Knock-on effects have also been discernible in Glasgow’s housing. While the influx of immigrants in itself created a problem of overcrowding, the low wage economy which they made possible meant that they could also afford little rent to resolve the problem. […] But low wages also combined with higher rents per square foot of floor space, and this so constrained demand, that the nineteenth-century housing built in Glasgow crowded around two thirds to three quarters of households–78 per cent in 1871, 66 per cent in 1911–into one or two room flats, in tenements built high and without gardens to maximise the return on the land. [Williams, Rory, “Medical, economic and population factors in areas of high mortality: the case of Glasgow.(MRC Medical Sociology Unit, University of Glasgow), p. 174]

I think we can guess how Georgina’s baby came to be born in Wick and not Glasgow on October 30th of that year (1871). For one thing, she probably wanted to be living near to her mother and sisters when she had her first baby. Maybe she was also aware that Glasgow apartment or tenement living was hazardous to one’s health. But mainly I think Georgina realized that living with a newborn baby in the Campbells’ no-doubt cramped apartment would be a nightmare.

That being said, Georgina was no stranger to cohabiting with other family members, since her own family was fairly large. Her parents, George and Mary Bain, had seven children:

James, born in 1833 in Wick
David, born in 1835 in Wick
Ann, born in 1837 in Wick
Jane, born in 1840 in Wick, (died July 2, 1857)
Donald, born in 1842 in Kilconquhar, Fife
Esther, born in 1844 in Wick
Georgina, born in 1847 in Wick

Sisters Ann and Esther seem likely prospects for being a help with the new baby.

I don’t have a way of discovering whether John Campbell’s brother Donald accompanied them to Wick from Glasgow, but he ended up in Wick at some point. His death record tells us that.

18 Donald Campbell Death, Jan 20 1874, Pulteneytown

Donald Campbell died at age 24 in 1874 of phthisis pulmonalis—an archaic term meaning pulmonary tuberculosis with progressive wasting of the body. Pulmonary tuberculosis is spread through the air when a person with an active infection coughs, spits, sneezes or speaks. There can be a genetic susceptibility to the disease.

His maternal uncle, William Sinclair, provided the information for his death certificate, which indicates to me that Donald’s brother, Georgina’s husband John, was possibly ill himself, or even dead at the time of his brother’s death, or he would have been the one to do this.

Donald and John Campbell’s parents outlived them; John Campbell, Sr. dying in 1885, and his wife Rachael in 1881. Both died in Wick. They had only the two boys in their own family, so when John, Donald and granddaughter Mary Jane died, they had no immediate family remaining, excepting each other.

There was no shortage of sad family stories in those days.

Perhaps John and Rachael Campbell moved from Glasgow to Wick to help nurse one or both of their sons, and ended up staying there.  In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I think we might assume that John Campbell died of the same disease as his brother.

And so sometime during the years 1871-1874, Georgina was widowed. I can find no record of John Campbell’s death, but I know that he died during those years. Also, her baby daughter disappeared from the written record, and any evidence of either her death or her continued existence is absent (at least I can’t find it). She did not accompany her mother on the voyage to Newfoundland, which tells me that she was also dead.

As we’ve seen, Georgina lost husband, daughter, father and mother in a few short years.

It has always amazed me that Georgina had the courage to leave her homeland and gamble her future on a new life in Newfoundland, so far from her family in Scotland.  Newfoundland was a largely undeveloped place, and sparsely populated, especially on the west coast. But perhaps after undergoing all that grief and loss, emigrating from Scotland to Newfoundland was not the traumatic upheaval it might otherwise have been.

How did she meet Alexander Petrie? While I can’t pinpoint the exact time or place, I think the key to that is John Campbell’s occupation as “Commercial Traveller, Fish Trade.” The Petrie fishery had a base in Wick, so that seems to be the connection.

However, Wick is eastwards from Sligo, and Alexander seems to have been pointed in the other direction entirely. He was moving westwards, possibly first to the Bay of Chaleur, New Brunswick (1869-ish), and then to the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland (1872-ish).  So I think that there’s an important piece of their story missing here.

In any event, Georgina Campbell, née Bain, took what was likely a six-week sea voyage on some sort of sailing ship (likely a Petrie Fishery ship), went to Newfoundland, and married Alexander Petrie in the Bay of Islands on March 31, 1875.  Perhaps a jolly, witty Irishman of Scottish ancestry was just what was needed to make her think that the future might still hold some promise of happiness.

Possibly her voyage to North America was undertaken on board The Hibernia (or Hibernian?—I don’t trust the accuracy of the newspapers, and I’ve seen records of a ship called Hibernian).

This clipping below talks about the acquisition of a new ship for the Petrie Fishery by my great-great grandfather William Petrie (note:  not the William Petrie who wrote the letter to Georgina, but his father).

The Sligo Independent, March 5, 1874:

19.5 newspaper clipping Wm Petrie ship purchaseSince we can’t know how they met and made the decision to marry, we might wonder how well Georgina knew Alexander Petrie. Did she have any misgivings about her decision during that ocean voyage to her new home? It’s not like she could return on the next bus if she found her situation unsuitable or uncomfortable in any way. For the times, it was tantamount to an irrevocable decision, and she would have to make a success of it, come what may.

Consider the visual contrast with the places she’d lived before.

Here’s a photo of her birthplace, Wick, in the county of Caithness, Scotland, where the herring fishery was an important part of the local economy…

19 Wick Harbour, 19th century

“Wick developed rapidly throughout the 19th century. The inner harbour was completed in 1810 and was reconstructed between 1824 and 1831. An outer harbour was built between 1862-7 due to pressure of trade. By the mid-19th century, the town was the largest herring fishing port in Europe, and at the peak of the town’s trade in 1862, an estimated 1122 boats were fishing out of Wick. Francis H. Groome, editor of ‘The Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland’ (published between 1882 and 1885) said of Wick that, “During the season, in July and August…herring and herring barrels are everywhere to be found along the shore, sometimes occupying considerable spaces along the sides of the streets in the portion of the town nearest the harbour.”
above, with photo: [http://www.ambaile.org.uk]

19.2 Herring gutters, Wick

She married in Perth, where she was apparently living at 40 Glover Street (her brother Donald’s home?). And after her marriage she went to Glasgow to live with her in-laws.

Below is a 19th century photo of Glasgow:

20 19th century glasgow from 'Historic B&W photos etc' from monovision.com

Glasgow had a population in the 1870’s of around 500,000. Wick’s population was more in the range of 8,000 – 9,000, but that was still impressive compared to the population in The Bay of Islands in 1871: there were 947 people, scattered amongst a variety of settlements.

Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, was positively rural by comparison to either Glasgow or Wick (photo from Holloway, below).  But I think it had the edge for beauty…

21 Bay of Islands, Petries, looking towards Mount Moriah

The following description of the Bay of Islands comes from Lovell’s Directory of 1871, in which Alexander did not, as yet, have a business listing.

West Coast – Lovell’s Directory 1871

Bay of Islands

A large bay on the western coast of the island, forming a part of what is called the French Shore. The resources of this portion of the island are quite sufficient to support a much larger population that at present resides here. Indeed, both in the way of agriculture and the fisheries, no section of the country offers greater inducements to settlers than does this section.

The herring fishery forms the staple industry of the people, and is prosecuted with great success. Herrings are taken during the months of January, February, March, May, June, October and November. In the winter months nets are used, which are let through holes and channels cut in the ice, but in summer the herring are mostly hauled in seines. The average quantity of herring annually taken may be stated at 30,000 barrels, most of which find a market in the adjacent provinces.

On the banks of the Humber river, which flows into this bay, large quantities of fine timber are produced suitable for lumbering, which is however, as yet availed of but to a small extent, together with large beds of limestone, and marbles of beautiful varieties, and masses of gypsum almost exhaustless in quantity. The land around is level and capable of easy cultivation, but is availed of merely as an accessory to the herring and cod fishery. The bay is studded with islands and the scenery remarkably fine. Distance from north head of St. George’s Bay 55 miles.

Population 947.”

In any case Georgina’s marriage to Alexander Petrie seems to have been a good decision, even with more difficult times ahead.

She had another child right away, a boy this time (William Thomas, b. September 4, 1875), then lost a child (George Alexander (b. Jan. 27, 1877, d. after May 27, 1877), had a child (John Albert b. December, 1878), lost a child (Samuel Kelly, b. Sept. 22, 1880, d. after Oct 31, 1880), had a child (Ethel Bain), b. Jan. 16, 1884, lost a child (‘Lizzie’), and had a child (Annie Daisy, b. Feb. 6, 1887).  I don’t know anything about Lizzie, but George Alexander and Samuel Kelly lived for a short while.

I was a bit puzzled by “Samuel Kelly” as a name for one of Alexander and Georgina’s children, until I realized that Alexander and Georgina’s sister-in-law, the former Elizabeth Kelly, was the daughter of Dr. Samuel Kelly. Dr. Kelly died before his daughter’s marriage to Alexander’s elder brother William in 1861. Alexander would have been 16 years old at that time. What was the connection that would have prompted Alexander and Georgina to name their child after their sister-in-law’s father, twenty years after that man’s death and before he could have had a significant impact on their lives? It’s a mystery to me. Maybe they just liked the name.

This next photo is an old tin-type photograph of Georgina with her two young sons.  William would be the older child, and he was likely between three and four years old at this time.  Baby John, who was born in December of 1878, was maybe five or six months old.  That puts this photo somewhere in the late spring or early summer of 1879.  It seems that George Alexander (born in January of 1877) must have died, or there’d be three children in the photo.  George would have been around two and a half years old, if he’d lived…

22 tin-type photo Georgina and two young boys

The next major event after the birth of their last child, Annie Daisy, in 1887 was Alexander’s death five years later, at age 47, again (supposedly) due to stomach cancer. And Georgina was widowed for the second time.

She’d had more than her share of grief to this point in time, I’d say. Her losses were:   one sister (Jane Bain, who died at age 17), two husbands, four children, and both parents. She was 45 years old.

And, given the economic times, her letter to her brother-in-law looking (I presume) for the inheritance money from Alexander’s property in Ireland must have been prompted by real need.

This is Alexander’s Last Will and Testament:

Petition of William K. Angwin – Estate of Alexander Petrie

Probate year 1892

To the Honorable Sir Frederic T Carter, KC Jn G Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland the Honorable Sir Robert J Pinsent DCL and the Honorable Joseph J Little Assistant Judges of the said Supreme Court.

The Petition of William K Angwin of Bay of Islands in the Island of Newfoundland Merchant,

Humbly sheweth

That Alexander Petrie late of Bay of Islands aforesaid Gentleman deceased departed this life on the twenty ninth day of July AD 1892

That the said Alexander Petrie previously to his decease made and published his last will and testament which is hereto annexed marked A that the said will has been duly proved in common form.

That under the said will the said Alexander Petrie appointed his brothers George and Thomas Petrie of Sligo Ireland and your Petitioner Executors of his Estate.

That he left his Widow Georgina Petrie and four children viz William Thomas, John Albert, Ethel Bain and Annie Daisy him surviving.

That the said deceased was at the time of his death possessed of property of the probable value of Five Thousand Dollars.

That no Probate or Administration to the Estate of the said deceased has been taken or applied for.

(part missing) ….may be granted to Your Petitioner in this Island of Newfoundland the rights of George Petrie and Thomas Petrie the other Executors named.


The last will and Testament of Alexander Petrie, Gentleman of Bay of Islands, Colony of Newfoundland.

I Alexander Petrie considering the uncertainty of this mortal life and being of Sound mind and memory, do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following that is to say

First I give and devise unto my beloved wife Georgina Petrie during the term of her natural life and so long as she shall remain single, all that messuage or tenement at present occupied and held by me, together with all my other liquids and freehold estate whatsoever, situated, lying and being on Bay of Islands, Colony of Newfoundland. At the death of my said wife Georgina Petrie, or in the event of her marrying again, I direct that the land messuage or tenements aforesaid shall go to my sons William Thomas and John Albert in equal shares. And in the event of the death of either of my said sons William Thomas or John Albert before they shall arrive at the age of twenty one years, I direct that the share of the deceased shall go to the surviving brother.

I further direct that from the proceeds of my Life Insurance Policy, my executors shall pay first the amount advanced by my brother William in payment of premiums on the same. Second they shall set aside the sum of One Thousand Dollars which shall be appropriated as they may decide towards the education of my children. And thirdly the remainder of the sum received from the aforesaid policy I devise and bequeath in Equal Shares to my daughters Ethel Bain and Annie Daisy. And I further direct that my Executors shall invest the same and keep the same invested for the benefit of my said daughters and shall pay over to them the interest accrueing there free from the control of their husbands should they marry and at their death I direct that the principal shall be paid over to their heirs or as they may by will direct.

And whereas certain real estate property in Sligo, Ireland, is now held in the name of my brother Thomas, but which belongs to me, I direct that my Executors shall obtain from my said brother Thomas a conveyance of said property to themselves and at such time as they may think advisable I direct that they shall sell the said property and after paying all charges thereon I direct that they shall divide the proceeds thereof between my children share and share alike. And I further direct that the share of each shall be paid over to them when they shall reach the full term of twenty-one years.

And I also give and bequeath to my said children in equal share all the rest and residue of my property of whatever nature or wherever situated.

I hereby appoint nominate and appoint to be the Executors of this my last will and testament my brothers George and Thomas Petrie of Sligo Ireland and William K Angwin, Merchant, of Bay of Islands, Colony of Newfoundland

In witness whereof I have hereunto signed my name and affixed my seal on the third day of July A.D. 1892.

Alexander Petrie

Signed Sealed published and declared by the said Alexander Petrie as and for his last will and testament in the presence of us who in his presence and in the presence of each other and at his request have signed our names hereto as witnesses there of. The words “lands and” having been first inserted on the first page.

John Putnam Halcones
Joseph C Meredith

William Angwin rented his lobster packing business premises from Alexander and Georgina and was mentioned in Howley’s book as residing at The Petrie Hotel, at least at one point in time.  As we can see from the will document, he was named one of the three executors of Alexander’s last will and testament; the other two being Alexander’s brothers, Thomas and George, in Ireland.

It’s a little puzzling to me that Alexander’s elder brother and business partner William (author of the letter to ‘Georgy’) was not named executor, but instead Thomas (who was the only one of the brothers not to marry, and who emigrated to Australia around ten years after Alexander’s death in 1892), and George. I’m sure that George was stable enough to be relied on for this task—even though he would have been hampered by distance—but Thomas? In preference to William?  Perhaps this was due to the fact that he was holding some of Alexander’s property, and possibly the purpose for that was to keep it separate from any connection to the business.

Alexander and Georgina’s first son was named, “William Thomas,” likely named for Alexander’s father, William, and his brother, Thomas. Since Thomas was given the first honour of a namesake in his brother’s family, I’m guessing there was likely a special bond between brothers Alexander and Thomas. Were they close in age? Not especially…Alexander was born in 1845, and Thomas was born in 1857, so there were 12 years of difference in their ages. Alexander’s other brothers, Peter (b. 1849), John (b. 1852), and George (b. 1855)—even William (b. 1841)—were closer in age to Alexander.

Now, you might want to say that perhaps the reason Alexander named a much-younger brother as executor was because he might reasonably expect some of the brothers nearer to his own age to predecease him, and that there would be a better chance of the youngest brother still being around when needed. But I don’t think so, because Alexander’s will was drawn up not too long before he died, July 3rd to be exact—just 26 days before his death. Maybe he couldn’t be certain of not lasting much longer, but one suspects that he had a pretty good idea.

In any case, Alexander named brothers Thomas and George in Sligo as executors, along with William Angwin, who was local to Bay of Islands, Newfoundland.

I very much like the fact that Alexander wanted to set aside one thousand dollars for the education of his children—note that he does say “my children” and not exclusively “my sons”– and also that he sets aside some funds to be invested for his daughters’ benefits, “free from the control of their husbands should they marry.” He was a progressive, caring father, evidently. I’m not sure that all 19th century fathers thought of giving their daughters an education and a little financial independence—as much as could be provided to that end, that is.  The bulk of his property went to his sons, but only after Georgina was done with it.

Back yet again (one last time) to the letter from William Jr., to his widowed sister-in-law, ‘Georgy’ in Newfoundland…the key message we take from it is that finances are a problem–both in Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, and in Sligo, Ireland.

But there are many questions to answer concerning that.

How did things come to this stage, and what happened to the family fishery business? Alexander came to the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, to open a new branch of the successful Petrie fishery business based in Sligo, Ireland–so what happened? Also…

I knew of the existence of The Petrie Hotel at Pleasant Point, or Petrie’s Point, in the Bay of Islands, Newfoundland, but I had originally thought that the hotel came about after Alexander’s death, as a means for Georgina to be able to support the family on her own.

While it was in fact her sole support after his death, The Petrie Hotel started up many years before Alexander died, and he and Georgina were running it together. The hotel was apparently their primary source of income from approximately 1878 onward, apart from rental income earned by premises let to another business owner, William Angwin (Alexander’s executor, and, I would guess, friend).

The switch from fishery to hostelry in the late 1870’s must have been prompted by some significant events, and so it was.

Did Georgina’s troubles end with her second widowhood? No, they did not. There were more trials ahead…a lawsuit and another family death, for two.

With the daunting prospect ahead of her of being the sole head of the family, did she pack everyone up and return to Scotland or Ireland to live near relatives?

No, she did not.

I said to a friend of mine, “Why would Georgina stay on in The Bay of Islands, when she was alone, struggling financially, and trying to raise four children?”

My friend said, without hesitation, “Because she loved Newfoundland.”

Well of course. That explains it perfectly.

This is the end of Part One.


A Philistine’s Lament?

As you may or may not know, a philistine is “a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them.”

I cannot say that I am indifferent to the arts. I majored in Art History, and the visual arts are a constant and abiding interest to me. That said, I am by no means an expert in the field, and am always willing to learn and be open to challenges.

However, I confess to having no ability to appreciate some artists’ works—Jean-Michel Basquiat’s doodles and chicken-scratchings would be one example. Basquiat was born in 1960 and died of a heroin overdose in 1988. It’s not the neo-Expressionist style per se that disagrees with me, just his particular work. He is much admired by the art world, but I’m afraid that I can’t share in that. It worries me a little that a recognized and acknowledged artist’s work gives me nothing.

I went to the Basquiat exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario some time ago, in spite of my aversion to his work, to force-feed Basquiat into my consciousness. I tried to see what “they” see, to understand and appreciate what “they” understand and appreciate. But my eyes and mind rebelled at every item of his work. It was such an effort to not just look away and walk out.

Let’s forget about the visual for a moment, since that is not really the point of this article. I want to talk about poetry, so let’s consider a piece of Basquiat’s writing. This is a poem called “A Prayer”, just as the artist/poet wrote it…


The words ‘obscure’ and ‘ambiguous’ occur to me as I read that.

(Hate the feeling that I was sent for and couldn’t come.)

I flatter myself that somewhere inside of me is a writer, and my writerly impulse is to communicate thoughts, feelings, and information in an intelligible and readily understandable way. I may not be doing that, but I’m working on it. That is my aim.

Some poets, on the other hand, seem to delight in stringing words together such that their ultimate purpose can be known only to the poets themselves.

Maybe understanding a poet’s personal history is the key to understanding the poems he or she writes.

But if that’s right, why is it right? Why cannot the words stand for themselves without a backstory to support them?

So, my problem is not the subject matter of the poem, but the fact that I sometimes have to struggle to recognize what it is. Why does a poem sometimes have to be a riddle with no solution? Is there absolutely NO way for the poet to make his or her meaning accessible to the average person without some effort expended on research? Maybe he or she is not writing for the likes of me. (I might be a little miffed, actually.)

Let’s consider poetry through the centuries, because I don’t believe that poets delighted in being obscure in the years prior to the 20th century. This examination must be restrictive, of course, since the topic is so broad, and my examples cannot be universally representative.

For a 16th century example, here are three stanzas from the poem The Lie by Sir Walter Raleigh (ca. 1552-1618)…

Tell physic of her boldness; 
Tell skill it is pretension;
Tell charity of coldness;
Tell law it is contention:
And as they do reply,
So give them still the lie.

Tell fortune of her blindness;
Tell nature of decay;
Tell friendship of unkindness;
Tell justice of delay:
And if they will reply,
Then give them all the lie.

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;
Tell schools they want profoundness,
And stand too much on seeming:
If arts and schools reply,
Give arts and schools the lie.

Those words are as relevant for the human condition today as they were all those centuries ago. Perhaps especially relevant to our discussion of the moment are these two lines:

Tell arts they have no soundness,
But vary by esteeming;”

Can Raleigh be saying that a work of art may not have intrinsic value, but if it gains esteem, perhaps through endorsement by a recognized artist, its acceptance is automatically assured? From what I’ve learned, Andy Warhol provided ‘esteem’ for Basquiat. 

And another poet from this era…

John Donne (1573-1631)
(He likely knew Sir Walter Raleigh, and fought with him against the Spanish at Cadiz.)

Meditation XVII

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Again, this poem’s words do not leave us ‘all at sea’…we know what he’s saying.  (I’m not going to discuss the poems themselves at the moment, just their degree of intelligibility.) 

Donne may have straddled the 16th and 17th centuries, but the following poet wrote entirely within the 17th century. These are the opening lines of a poem by Anne Bradstreet (ca. 1612-1672)…

Here Follows some Verses upon the Burning of Our House July 10th, 1666

In silent night when rest I took
For sorrow near I did not look
I wakened was with thund'ring noise
And piteous shrieks of dreadful voice.
That fearful sound of “Fire!” and “Fire!”
Let no man know is my desire.

These words capture the poet’s experience of taking to her bed on a peaceful, quiet night, in the expectation that she would arise in the morning, and life would proceed as usual. Instead, she was startled out of her sleep by the noise of a terrifying conflagration—and that, as she says, was the very last thing she needed. I get that. You get that. We all get that. Maybe that’s too easy? Not enough challenge?

Even the title gives us a huge clue to the subject matter of the poem. It’s expository almost to the point of superfluity. In any case, it does place the event in time for us, and so we in the 21st century might say that the style of this poem was pretty much in keeping with the fashion of the times, given what we know of it.

And here’s a portion of Jubilate Agno, (Latin for “Rejoice in the Lamb”). It was written ca. 1760, a hundred years after Bradstreet, by Christopher Smart (1722-1771), during Smart’s confinement in St. Luke’s Hospital, London, for insanity:

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

Every cat lover can see Jeoffry in those lines. Christopher Smart himself can also be found there. As we can easily see, the motivation for Jeoffry’s cat behaviour is explained in terms of Christopher Smart’s own beliefs, morality, and understanding, and so the pet reflects the poet. Easy. I get that, you get that, we all get that.

And here’s a poem by Christine Rossetti (1830-1894), from another century after Smart:

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Again, there’s no mistaking the sentiment nor the subject matter. It’s a beautiful poem, and perhaps representative of the 19th century in that there seems to have been a preponderance of themes surrounding death–grief, loss, general melancholia–in that era.

The following poem from T.S. Eliot pushes us into the early part (ca 1910/11) of the 20th century. I never realized before that the lyrics for the song ‘Memory’ in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats” drew on this poem…


By T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

The winter evening settles down 
With smell of steaks in passageways. 
Six o’clock. 
The burnt-out ends of smoky days. 
And now a gusty shower wraps 
The grimy scraps 
Of withered leaves about your feet 
And newspapers from vacant lots; 
The showers beat 
On broken blinds and chimney-pots, 
And at the corner of the street 
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps. 
And then the lighting of the lamps. 

The morning comes to consciousness 
Of faint stale smells of beer 
From the sawdust-trampled street 
With all its muddy feet that press 
To early coffee-stands. 

With the other masquerades 
That time resumes, 
One thinks of all the hands 
That are raising dingy shades 
In a thousand furnished rooms. 

You tossed a blanket from the bed, 
You lay upon your back, and waited; 
You dozed, and watched the night revealing 
The thousand sordid images 
Of which your soul was constituted; 
They flickered against the ceiling. 
And when all the world came back 
And the light crept up between the shutters 
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, 
You had such a vision of the street 
As the street hardly understands; 
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where 
You curled the papers from your hair, 
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet 
In the palms of both soiled hands. 

His soul stretched tight across the skies 
That fade behind a city block, 
Or trampled by insistent feet 
At four and five and six o’clock; 
And short square fingers stuffing pipes, 
And evening newspapers, and eyes 
Assured of certain certainties, 
The conscience of a blackened street 
Impatient to assume the world. 

I am moved by fancies that are curled 
Around these images, and cling: 
The notion of some infinitely gentle 
Infinitely suffering thing. 

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh; 
The worlds revolve like ancient women 
Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

For me, that poem is so evocative of time and place. I’ve never been there, but I can go there.  It’s not completely explanatory, but he gives us enough. We can enjoy winkling all the meaning out of it.

And here are a couple of stanzas from Maya Angelou…

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.


You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

There’s no mistaking the essence of this poem…the refusal to be downtrodden, the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of adversity. We know that she’s speaking from the life experiences of a black woman, but her theme has a universal quality.

And a section from another black woman’s poem.  This is from the 21st century, by Parneshia Jones…

What would Gwendolyn Brooks Do

Dawn oversees percolating coffee
and the new wreckage of the world.

I stand before my routine reflection,
button up my sanity,
brush weary strands of hair with pomade
and seal cracked lips of distrust
with cocoa butter and matte rouge.


Hold On, she whispers. 

Another day, when I have to tip-toe
around the police and passive-aggressive emails
from people who sit only a few feet away from me.
Another day of fractured humans
who decide how I will live and die,
and I have to act like I like it
so I can keep a job;
be a team player, pay taxes on it;
I have to act like I’m happy to be
slammed, severed, and swindled.
Otherwise, I’m just part of the problem—
a rebel rouser and rude.

And I can understand this poem as well, very easily. Jones is writing from the perspective of a black female in American society, but I think we can all feel her words. Many of us have had the experience, or the awareness, of being in thrall to fractured humans who decide how we will live and die. At times we’ve had to stamp a smile on our faces in spite of it. Maybe not quite in the same way that she has, or to the same degree, but I very definitely know what she means.

However, I have absolutely no clue what Jean-Michel Basquiat means in his poem, A Prayer. And I’ve given it every chance to speak to me. It doesn’t. No more than does his visual art. Does that make me a Philistine?

Perhaps one must choose one’s poets. A poet for me might not be a poet for you. Perhaps there is no universality or commonality in poetry. Maybe that’s not always possible, or even desirable.

Poetry has been defined as “the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.” Another definition is, “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.”

I think the first of the two definitions above is a little fanciful. Some poems express feelings and ideas that give us pain and discomfort rather than pleasure. 

And, of course, some can leave us–some of us, that is–bewildered. Maybe even a teensy bit irritable.

But maybe that’s not a good enough reason to look away.

When My Coffee Mug Spoke for Me

What am I doing with Salvador Dali on the banner of this article, you say? Bear with me, all will be revealed.

I’ve been a long time between postings, and this post is just a transitional filler whose purpose is to cut through the cobwebs, evict the dust-bunnies, and let my poor, neglected blog know that I plan to return when my ‘opus’ is completed. I hadn’t intended to write an opus, but I don’t think that I’m in the driver’s seat anymore.

It’s not just that summertime distractions kept me away from writing blog articles, although that was part of it. It happens that in a silly (and somewhat uncharacteristic) moment of single-mindedness, I said to myself that I would post nothing else until my genealogy article was completed. That was an unnecessarily restrictive rule to set, because it ought to be possible to dash off a few random thoughts on other things while “the great masterwork” is in production.

Oh dear, now I’m fearful of having raised your hopes that there will be something momentous soon to follow.

Let me hasten to disabuse you of that notion…“my masterwork” is more apt to bore than fascinate, so I wouldn’t want to excite anyone’s anticipation. Genealogical records are generally of marginal interest to anyone other than the writer, even when the reader is hanging off a very substantial branch of that same family tree. Unless the family story is being told by a particularly skillful writer–like David Macfarlane in “The Danger Tree”–it is reduced to a mere exercise in record-keeping:  ruthless self-indulgence of the names-and-dates variety. I will indulge, in spite of that, because I feel that my family history needs to be recorded for the edification of future generations of our family. With any luck, one day a skillful writer of the David-Macfarlane variety will take the bones of it and add some flesh and blood.

But I’m here for the moment to blether on about my favourite ‘statement’ coffee mugs…one that I outgrew and one that I will never outgrow. They were my workplace coffee mugs, relics of a bygone era, and used for periods of years at a time when I worked in an office.

I’m inclined to think that a workplace coffee mug can speak for one surreptitiously, because few people would imagine that it reflects anything of importance about a person’s general attitude to life or work–should they care to know.  I like to think that my coffee mugs reflected a wry sense of humour, which I cultivated at every opportunity, and very much needed at times. If your home décor or your fashion sense reflect aspects of your personality, why wouldn’t the coffee mug that you use throughout the day—every day—at work also say something about you? If somebody is using a chipped and stained “I-heart-NY” mug every day, maybe that says something, too…that perhaps the person doesn’t really care what holds their java. (What else don’t they care about at work, we wonder?)

My first mug had a cartoon figure of a woman in a typical 1980’s woman’s ‘power suit’, facing straight forward. Projecting towards her on a diagonal from both her right and left sides are two arms in pinstriped suit jacket sleeves (distinctly masculine). The index fingers on the hands extending beyond the sleeves are holding up the corners of her mouth to form a smile.   The caption on the mug is “I Love My Job.” That was during my career-building days, when my relationships with the predominantly male hierarchy at the company were both good-humoured and mildly antagonistic.   I was subjected to the usual acts of unfairness and inequity, but I still liked the people. I suppose I realized that it was their ‘conditioning,’ and that they were not essentially bad people. The cartoon woman even looked like me at the time, being fair-haired and spectacled. I still have the mug, and will add a photo of it to this article at some point.

That was the mug I outgrew.

I outgrew it because times changed and I changed. The job was not just a job, it was a career–a work in progress–and so I didn’t think it was appropriate to advertise in even a humorously sarcastic way whether I loved it or not.  It was something I walked into as the new technology (computers) were introduced to offices in the mid-1980s.  I was in on the ground floor, and welcomed the opportunity.

I also outgrew that mug because the ‘dress for success’ fad passed on, and perhaps the only good it did was to give a surface indication of an office worker’s serious desire for career promotion. If wearing the appropriate clothing signalled that, then we would wear the appropriate clothing. Blue suits! Everyone knew what you were talking about when you said, ‘blue suits.’ Blue suits were de rigueur male attire in the office in those days. Women had to think about suits as well if they expected to be taken seriously. In those days (the 80’s) it was of almost exaggerated importance. We wore shoulder pads like NFL-players.

“Dress for Success” was (and is) a book by John T. Molloy, and it was all about dressing to project a professional image.  It was good in its day, because I suppose some people really had no idea how their appearance affected people’s perceptions of their competence and professionalism.

I recently had to take my father to an appointment with a geriatrician at the hospital, and I got a preview of the doctor when she came into the waiting area to speak to the receptionist.  I didn’t know who she was at the time, and I remember thinking, “The doctor really ought to have a quiet word with that woman about her appearance; she looks like she ought to be sitting on a beach in Jamaica with a glass of rum punch instead of working in a hospital.”

The “doctor” (for such she was, in spite of my apostrophes) was somewhere in her late 50s.  She had over-bleached, medium-length blond hair tortured into kinks, makeup ladled on, and she sported an outfit consisting of eye-gouging, acid-toned colours in a bombastic print that wouldn’t look out of place in the tropics.  Lime-green shoes were a feature.   Her personality matched her outfit, so perhaps I should have been thankful that appearances, in this case, were not deceptive.  I didn’t feel that we were in the hands of a competent medical professional, and I was not wrong.

Today there’s an organization called “Dress for Success.” It started up in 1997, and the following is their mission statement:

“Dress for Success is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life.”

Well, the doctor’s career might not have been seriously hampered by her flamboyant dress sense, but I confess that I’m a bit ‘old school’ where medical professionals are concerned.   In a hospital, the only way to tell who is a nurse and who is a member of the cleaning staff these days is if one of them is pushing a mop.

In any case, there seemed to be a little too much emphasis on surface appearances in the office of those days.  That’s my recollection, in any event.  It’s changed radically over the years since then, as we all know.

My next office mug was one I used for many years as well, but it was more for the late 1990’s, when I was working exclusively with computers, networking and office communications equipment. I remember saying to people (in fun) that one day they would find me hanging from a Cat 5 cable in the wiring closet. Those wires had a life of their own, and somehow managed to get into a tangled rat’s nest despite my continual efforts to keep them organized. Troubleshooting problems was always a challenge when there were so many things to think about–not only cables and wires, but networking equipment, mainframe terminals, standalone computers, squirrels…

Yes, you heard correctly, one time a squirrel ran along the roof beam in the plant, and decided to stop for a nibble on my fibre optic cable.

Pretty much everyone has experienced the frustration of a malfunctioning computer or internet communications device. Just imagine experiencing everyone else’s frustration of malfunctioning computers or communications devices. Sometimes by the time I heard about problems the person was beyond frustrated and fit to be tied—understandably, of course. They were under pressure to get things done, and their office tool had transmogrified into a monumental obstacle.  My career choice sometimes seemed to be a test of mental fortitude.

So my next mug reflected that daily workplace reality for me. My sister had bought it for me when she visited the Salvador Dali museum in Florida. The mug had a black schematic drawing of Salvador Dali on it, and the caption was, “La seule différence entre moi et un fou, c’est que je ne suis pas fou!” Dali actually said, “L’unique différence entre un fou et moi, c’est que moi je ne suis pas fou!”


Near enough. For non-French speakers, what Dali said was, “The only difference between a crazy person and me, is that I am not crazy!”

Working daily with computers as I was, I never failed to be amused at that.  It just never got old.

Anyhow, in a retrospective view of those 28.5 years of working in an office I can say that the good balances-out the bad. I still have those two coffee mugs in my kitchen cupboard at home, and they each recall to memory my circumstances in those two phases of my career.   More than anything else, those mugs remind me that the way I coped with difficulty was (eventually) with humour. I won’t say that my coping mechanism was always immediately successful, but it never completely deserted me. When I left the workplace, I left with my sense of humour intact. Wish I had known the full value of that in the early days, and perhaps how to have used it to better advantage. I used humour in a defensive way, but Mark Twain evidently felt it also made an effective weapon…

“[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain

Well, I suppose that laughter could be an effective weapon against humbug in the wider world. Blowing humbug to rags and atoms with laughter in an office could potentially inflict serious collateral damage, unless used very judiciously indeed. It would require a finely tuned sensibility to know when it was likely to be effective. I think it was safer to reserve the belly laughs for Scott Adams’s Dilbert cartoon.

My favourite Dilbert had to be Dogbert’s Tech Support. He answers the phone to the pointy-haired boss with, “This is Dogbert. How may I abuse you?” Dogbert represented ‘the dark side’ in which we never indulged, but he was cathartic in that there were times when I would have loved to have exerted a similar, flagrant advantage over certain people—the small minority of people, thankfully. Those people weren’t funny, not then and not now.

At the very least, I can say that my Salvador Dali coffee mug was instrumental in helping me to maintain my equilibrium on the more challenging days just by making me smile.  On another level, Dali’s statement gives us to understand that being crazy and appearing crazy can be two entirely different things, and so surface appearances can occasionally be deceptive.  And if perception and reality sometimes differ, then things, on a bad day, might not be as bad as they seem…?  In any case, my Dali coffee mug appealed to my sense of humour and to my preference for substance over surface, and I’m sure it will be one that I will never outgrow.

I can still look at it today, and smile.


Richard III: Digging for the Truth

The University of Leicester–who kindly gave me permission to use the images of their 2012 exhumation of Richard III from under the car parking lot in Leicester (England)–tell us that 500 years after Richard was unceremoniously wedged into the ground in the choir of Grey Friars church in Leicester, his skeleton is still almost complete.  Missing are his left fibula (lower leg bone), a few small hand bones, some teeth, and his feet–which they say were probably separated from the rest of him during the construction of a Victorian outhouse on top of the grave.

I don’t know what to think about that…the Victorian outhouse, I mean.  I was tempted to write to the University of Leicester and ask them whether by ‘outhouse’ they mean an outdoor toilet, as we would refer to it in North America.  Could it be possible that they might mean an out-building like a garden shed?  Sometimes commonly understood terms in North America mean something a little different in Britain, and vice-versa.  In this case, I certainly hope so.

Richard’s skeleton showed dreadful injuries, among which was an ‘insult injury’ as evidenced by a cut to the pelvis–which indicates a stab to the buttocks.  Historical accounts say that he was stripped naked after his death, slung across a horse, and paraded in front of many people in that state.  A very ignominious treatment for a dead body, no matter whose it is—but maybe especially for a king.  The eventual placement of the body in the ground with the head wedged against the upper end of the burial pit is another potential indicator of disrespect to the deceased.  And then, centuries later, an outhouse constructed over his last resting place?  (Unintentional, mind you, since they didn’t know he was there.)

Perhaps Richard III does have a lot to answer for in the events of his 32-year life and two-year reign, but he would not be unique in that respect among medieval monarchs.  Beheading, hanging, drawing and quartering and suchlike punishments for disloyal subjects were commonplaces of the time.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”–from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1—is very apt in describing the siege mentality that must have been an integral part of the medieval king’s daily outlook.  Any king that showed weakness, or failed to brutally suppress traitorous actions, might be inviting contenders for his throne.  There was more than self-interest in this, since civil wars cost the lives of thousands of people, and there were no social services to offset the impact on a family from the loss of its breadwinner.

For these reasons, young monarchs who succeeded during their minority needed a strong Regent or Lord Protector, and Richard found himself acting for his young nephew in that capacity when his brother (Edward IV) died at age 40 in April of 1483.  We cannot say, however, that Richard performed his responsibilities well, since that nephew and his younger brother disappeared–never to be seen again–under the care and protection of Uncle Richard.

Maybe the outhouse wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

But, in fairness, among the many blameworthy actions ascribed to King Richard III are quite a few blatant falsehoods.  Also, while we–and people of any stage in history come to that–can look with horror on the murder of two young boys, it was never conclusively proven that they met their deaths at the orders of their uncle.

All that aside (for the moment), the discovery and identification of Richard III’s skeleton by the University of Leicester’s team of scientists and archaeologists–at the prompting of the Richard III Society in Britain, and with their collaboration in obtaining funding–was nothing short of miraculous.  They are to be congratulated for their scrupulous handling of the archaeological dig, meticulous identification process, and for providing thorough documentation along with photos and film explaining procedures and findings every step of the way.   Fascinating…and extremely well done.

Richard III portrait and skeleton

Now we know what happened to him (if not to his nephews).  But, as the Richard III Society would tell us, we should all take another look at Richard III’s life and times; and try to glean the truth of it from the available accounts.

Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III is compelling for its artistry, and it’s difficult to discount his version of the villain we love to hate–but it does seem a bit severe…

“Never hung poison on a fouler toad. Out of my sight! thou dost infect my eyes.”

[Richard III, Act I, Scene II]

So, let’s start at the beginning of the end…

On August 22, 1485, the 32-year-old King Richard III–the last king to die in battle in Britain–led a charge directly against his rival, Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond, and the small party of soldiers surrounding him.  Richard had seen from his vantage point that Henry was at that moment vulnerable to attack, and therefore he hoped to bring the battle to a quick end by eliminating the leader of the opposition himself.

This was the crucial moment in the famous Battle of Bosworth–which acquired its name at a point in time 25 years after the battle had been fought.  The name known to contemporaries was the Battle of ‘Redemore’, meaning place of reeds.  Given that name, it is unsurprising that marshland conditions had to be factored into battle strategy by the opposing forces.  Recent archaeology (2009) has located the site of the Battle of Bosworth not far from Stoke Golding, and knowing that the land was marshy in 1485 was key to identifying the exact place.

Richard gambled big with his somewhat rash action attacking Henry, and since he was ‘all in’ he gave it every bit of force and speed he could.  He killed Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon, in the initial charge and “unhorsed burly John Cheyne,” Edward IV’s former standard-bearer.  But Henry’s bodyguards managed to protect him during the onslaught.  [Horrox, Rosemary (1991) [1989]. Richard III: A Study of Service. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press.] 

A record of this pivotal moment in British history was written over 20 years later by historian/chronicler Polydore Vergil (1470-1555), an Italian priest who arrived in Britain in 1502.  Vergil was commissioned by King Henry VII to write a history of Britain, and began his Anglica Historia in 1506. [www.reformation.org].

Polydore Vergil

Polydore Vergil, 1470-1555

His account of Richard’s attack on Henry follows, and I’ve tried to reproduce the olde English (against auto-correct’s unwelcome assistance) to give your brain a workout!  We’ve all done those reading exercises on Facebook and suchlike where only the first and last letters of a word are correct, and the intervening characters are gobbledegook.  Vergil’s account shouldn’t be too much of a problem, since there are few words of an antique character…’espyalls’ might be one.  We use the verb ‘espy’ or ‘espied’, but we don’t use a noun form that I’m aware of…

Whyle the battayll contynewyd thus hote on both sydes betwixt the vanwardes, king Richard understood, first by espyalls wher erle Henry was a farre of with smaule force of soldiers abowt him; than after drawing nerer he knew yt perfytely by evydent signes and tokens that yt was Henry; wherfor, all inflamyd with ire, he strick his horse with the spurres, and runneth owt of thone syde withowt the vanwardes agaynst him. Henry perceavyd king Richerd coome uppon him, and because all his hope was than in valyancy of armes, he receavyd him with great corage. King Richerd at the first brunt killyd certane, overthrew Henryes standerd, toygther with William Brandon the standerd bearer, and matchyd also with John Cheney a man of muche fortytude, far exceeding the common sort, who encountered with him as he cam, but the king with great force drove him to the ground, making way with weapon on every syde. But yeat Henry abode the brunt longer than ever his owne soldiers wold have wenyd, who wer now almost owt of hope of victory, whan as loe William Stanley with thre thowsand men came to the reskew: than trewly in a very moment the resydew all fled, and king Richerd alone was killyd fyghting manfully in the thickkest presse of his enemyes.   [Polydore Vergil, Anglica Historia, Books 23-25, (London:  J. B. Nichols, 1846, first published 1556), p. 224.]

No matter what opinion one holds of King Richard III—and Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III as evil Machiavellian schemer, unscrupulous opportunist and heartless child-murderer is one view—he died valiantly in battle, apparently betrayed by Sir William Stanley, who switched sides (perhaps understandably) at an opportune moment for Henry.

Polydore Vergil goes on to say that Richard had the opportunity to save himself, and didn’t…

The report is that king Richerd might have sowght to save himself by flight; for they who wer abowt him, seing the soldiers even from the first stroke to lyft up ther weapons febly and fayntlye, and soome of them to depart the feild pryvyly, suspectyd treason, and exhortyd him to flye, yea and whan the matter began manyfestly to qwaile, they browght him swyft horses; but he, who was not ignorant that the people hatyd him, owt of hope to have any better hap afterward, ys sayd to have awnsweryd, that that very day he wold make end ether of warre of lyfe, suche great fearcenesse and suche huge force of mynd he had: wherfore, knowinge certanely that that day wold ether yeald him a peaceable and quyet realme from thencefurth or els perpetually bereve him the same, he came to the fielde with the crowne uppon his head, that therby he might ether make a beginning or ende of his raigne. And so the myserable man had suddaynly suche end as wont ys to happen to them that have right and law both of God and man in lyke estimation, as will, impyetie, and wickednes. Surely these are more vehement examples by muche than ys hable to be utteryd with toong to tereyfy those men which suffer no time to passe free from soome haynous offence, creweltie, or mischief.  [Vergil, Anglica Historia, Books 23-25, pp.225-226.]

…and so, according to Vergil, King Richard was counselled to take the fresh horses brought to him, and flee.  Richard’s reported refusal to save himself was said to be due to his hope of converting his people’s hatred of him to respect by making a brave showing at the battle.  As Vergil tells us, he said, “that very day he would make end either of war or of life.”

It’s a romantic account of Richard’s last moments, and presented by King Henry VII’s own historian, whom one would not expect to show his patron’s enemy in any favourable light.  But perhaps victory over a worthy opponent (his personal attributes aside) made for a more laudable triumph to Henry.

We might, however, want to question whether Richard was truly hated by his people, or whether Vergil was simply fulfilling his role as political propagandist for Henry VII.

And as for Henry, Polydore Vergil says that “Henry perceived King Richard come upon him, and because all his hope was then in valiancy of arms, he received him with great courage.”

But William Burton’s 1622 The Description of Leicestershire, 2nd edition 1642, printed 1777, differs:  “If Henry moved at all it was backwards. […] The ferocity of Richard would have terrified a better man than Henry.”

Burton’s account is below.  The final manuscript of the 1642 edition was in folio and transcribed by a professional copyist in a seventeenth-century Secretary hand.  I believe the English used in the original text must have been updated with this transcription, but could not find that stated anywhere.  I included the handwriting here, which I admire very much for its style and readability…

If Henry moved at all it was backwards [William Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, 1622, 2nd Ed, 1642, (W. Whittingham, printed 1777), p. 116.]

This account tells us that Henry Tudor, 2nd Earl of Richmond, was not the conquering-hero type.  We know that he had little experience of battle, and at Bosworth field he relied heavily on the Earl of Oxford, John de Vere’s, greater experience and knowledge.  Judging by what we know of his subsequent reign as Henry VII, he could perhaps more aptly be described as an avaricious and parsimonious bean-counter than a valiant warrior.

King Richard III, on the other hand, was a valiant warrior.  All sources, even those that disparage his character (which is most–if not all–of them), concur.

But there seem to have been other factors besides valour influencing Richard’s actions at that point in the Battle of Bosworth.  While choosing to preserve his own life by taking the horses and retreating to safety might not have earned him respect, a live king would still trump a dead king.  Would the cunning and calculating (as he is purported to be) King Richard deliberately press on with a brave but futile encounter with his enemy if there were another choice?

Consider these characteristics of Richard, attributed to him by Thomas More…

He was close and secrete, a deepe dissimuler, lowlye of counteynaunce, arrogant of heart, outwardly coumpinable where he inwardely hated, not letting to kisse whome hee thoughte to kyll; dispitious and cruell, not for euill will always, but ofter for ambicion, and either for the suretie or increase of his estate.  Frende and foo was muche what indifferent, where his aduauntage grew, he spared no mans deathe, whose life withstood his purpose. (Thomas More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, Ed. J. Rawson Lumby, D.D., (Cambridge:  At the University Press, 1883), p. 6.)

(Modernized, below…)

He was close and secret, a deep dissembler, lowly of countenance, arrogant of heart, outwardly companionable where he inwardly hated, not omitting to kiss whom he thought to kill; pitiless and cruel, not for evil will always, but more often for ambition, and either for the protection or increase of his estate. Friend and foe were all the same; where his advantage grew, he spared no man death whose life obstructed his purpose.


Thomas More, 1478-1535, Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527

However, before wholeheartedly accepting this assessment of Richard’s character, we need to consider the many inaccuracies in Thomas More’s Historie…, and the fact that at the time of Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth, More was only seven years’ old.  His information was second-hand at best, and possibly relied too much on the biased accounts written by earlier historians/chroniclers.  Probably another source was John Morton, Bishop of Ely, who was More’s mentor at an early age.  It would be an understatement to say that Morton was not enamored of Richard III.

Also, considering that More wrote the account ca 1513, did not finish it prior to his death in 1535, and the publication of it came about when More’s son-in-law discovered the manuscript and had it published in 1557, one wonders whether More had any intention of completing or publishing it.  There’s also some speculation by historians that the history was written by John Morton, Bishop of Ely, and merely copied-out by Thomas More.  The following is from the introduction to the volume, and an updated version follows:

intro page for Historie of Kyng Rycharde, Thos More

“The History of Richard III (unfinished) written by Master Thomas More, then one of the under-Sheriffs of London about the year 1513 Which work hath been before this time printed in Hardyng’s Chronicle and in Hall’s Chronicle, but very much corrupt in many places sometime having less and sometime having more and altered in words and whole sentences, much varying from the copy in his own hand, by which this is printed.”  [More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, Introductory page.]

And so that particular volume was true to More’s handwritten text, but we still might wonder whether the actual source of More’s Historie was John Morton.  Another perplexing question is:  if Thomas More truly thought that the work had merit and ought to be published, would he not have completed it sometime in the 22 years before he died?  (Sir Thomas More—later ‘Saint Thomas More’ when he was beatified in 1886–was beheaded for high treason in 1535 for refusing to recognize that King Henry VIII was Supreme Head of the Church in England.)

And now back to the Battle of Bosworth…King Richard III was on marshy ground in more ways than one.  He had reason to doubt the loyalty of his allies, and so his superior numbers (12,000-ish men versus 5,000 on Henry’s side) did not guarantee him a sure victory.  For one thing, Richard’s rear guard of 7,000 men under Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, appear not to have engaged with the enemy at all–for reasons that are unclear.  Speculation for this runs from treachery to the unfavourable battleground conditions.   John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was apparently loyal to Richard, but his position on Richard’s right flank was threatened by the Earl of Oxford, a seasoned warrior and the leader of Henry’s forces.  Norfolk himself was killed in the fighting.  Add to this the potential uncertainty about Thomas Lord Stanley’s and Sir William Stanley’s loyalties (Richard had taken Thomas Lord Stanley’s son hostage as security against his father’s support), and Richard’s decision to expose himself to danger becomes more  understandable.

So perhaps there was little choice, but this does not diminish Richard’s bravery…

“All accounts attest to Richard’s strength in battle. Even John Rous, who compared Richard to the Antichrist, admitted “if I may say the truth to his credit, though small in body and feeble of limb, he bore himself like a gallant knight and acted with distinction as his own champion until his last breath”. [http://www.historyextra.com/feature/tudors/10-things-you-need-know-about-battle-bosworth]

Additionally, he fought wearing his crown, which made him an easy mark…

Richard was the only English monarch since the conquest who fell in battle, and the second who fought in his crown, an indication of courage, because from such a distinguishing mark the person of majesty is readily singled out for destruction.  Henry V appeared at Agincourt in his…     [Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, p. 123.]

Richard’s doubts about the support of the Stanley brothers were obviously well founded.  We can easily imagine Sir William Stanley observing Richard’s attack on Henry with a calculating eye.  At that moment, the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth was clearly in his hands.  Two small contingents of men, each containing one of the two key antagonists, were involved in a skirmish—and Stanley’s support could win the day decisively for one or the other.  He chose Henry.  Stanley surrounded the king’s men with his own, larger forces, and brought the Plantagenet dynasty, and King Richard III, to an end.

Below is Shakespeare’s dramatic recreation of this key moment in the battle, with Richard unhorsed, and looking for a mount to continue the fight. This is from Richard III, Act V, Scene IV…


Rescue, my Lord of Norfolk! rescue, rescue!

The king enacts more wonders than a man,

Daring an opposite to every danger:

His horse is slain, and all on foot he fights,

Seeking for Richmond in the throat of death.

Rescue, fair lord, or else the day is lost!

King Richard:

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!


Withdraw, my lord; I’ll help you to a horse.

King Richard:

Slave!  I have set my life upon a cast,

And I will stand the hazard of the die.

I think there be six Richmonds in the field;

Five have I slain to-day, instead of him.—

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

These events were certainly the stuff of which dramatic theatre is made.  Only consider the 15th-16th century world in which there were no Hollywood movies, no television programs, no radio broadcasts, no ‘superstar’ actors and no recognizable celebrities.  The famous, moneyed, powerful people were the aristocrats, and one had to be careful when representing one of them in an imagination-generated storyline loosely based on fact, because an unflattering characterization could result in dire consequences to playwright and players.

Richard III, the last Plantagenet monarch, was a safe choice for theatrical villain after Henry VII ascended the throne and established the Tudor dynasty.  Henry VII’s son (Henry VIII) and grandchildren (Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I) succeeded him, and Elizabeth was on the throne at the time Shakespeare wrote Richard III.  Queen Elizabeth I could have few objections to Richard III’s public vilification, since the Tudor accession–by right of conquest–would gain justification through a perception of superior merit.  It might be said that Elizabeth hardly needed that justification, but perhaps her father Henry VIII’s interesting solution to the problem of marital dissatisfaction, and the religious persecutions during her half-sister ‘Bloody’ Mary’s reign were not all that distant in memory.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed at Elizabeth I’s command in 1587, just five years prior to Shakespeare’s Richard III (ca. 1592), so she was not a supremely confident monarch, secure in her power and position.

Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, draws on Thomas More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, and it seems that both works paint a much darker picture of Richard III than was warranted by fact.

For one thing, Richard is not suspected of murdering his wife, Anne Neville; she was ill for two months and may have died of tuberculosis.  Nor did Richard have marital designs on his niece, Elizabeth, for whom he had been negotiating marriage with a Portuguese prince.  He did not kill Anne’s father, the Earl of Warwick, who died at the Battle of Barnet (April 14, 1471).   Nor her first husband, Edward of Westminster (son of Henry VI), who died at the Battle of Tewkesbury (May 4, 1471).

richard-iii-stained-glass, Cardiff Castle

King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, Stained glass, Cardiff Castle

There is also no evidence to suggest that Richard killed Henry VI, who died ca May 21, 1471, while incarcerated in the Tower of London after the Battle of Tewkesbury.  It’s possible that Richard, as High Constable of England, might have delivered to the Tower Edward IV’s orders (if such there were) to execute Henry, but there is no documentary evidence of this.  There was also a belief by some that Henry may have ‘died of melancholy’ when he heard of his son’s death at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  That may seem somewhat fanciful, but Henry’s mental state was known to be fragile; he had had mental breakdowns and suffered hallucinations and lengthy periods of dissociation from his surroundings—modern speculation is that he may have suffered from a form of schizophrenia.  Owing to these frequent episodes of mental incapacity, his Queen, Margaret of Anjou, often ruled in his place.  She led her own army at the Battle of Tewkesbury, and was taken prisoner by Sir William Stanley until ransomed in 1475 by Louis XI of France.

An interesting side note on this strong, remarkable woman is that both she and Henry shared a love of learning.  Queen’s College, Cambridge, was founded in 1448 by Queen Margaret of Anjou, and King’s College by King Henry VI.

Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI

Margaret of Anjou and King Henry VI

It occurs to me that if either Edward or Richard wanted Henry VI out of the way, they’d have done better to eliminate Margaret of Anjou.

Richard also does not appear to be responsible for the death of his brother George, Duke of Clarence, who was executed for treason by their elder brother, King Edward IV.  According to Horace Walpole in his Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, (Published 1768), “The Duke of Clarence appears to have been at once a weak, volatile, injudicious, and ambitious man.”  He seems to have been largely at fault for his own downfall.

Here is an illustration of dubious information provided in Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act I, Scene I, a soliloquy in which the character of Richard says:

For then I’ll marry Warwick’s youngest daughter.

What though I kill’d her husband and her father?

As previously stated, Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick, Anne’s father, died at the Battle of Barnet; and her husband, Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, died at the Battle of Tewkesbury…both fighting against Edward IV, Richard’s brother, and therefore traitors.  Richard is unlikely to have killed them.

Anne Neville, Richard’s wife and queen, was Warwick’s youngest daughter.  At the time of her young husband Prince Edward’s death at Tewkesbury, she was 14 or 15 years old.  She later married Richard at age 16; Richard was 19 at the time.

This excerpt from the play’s dialogue (Richard III, Scene II) has Richard of Gloucester–who was not yet King Richard III–admitting guilt to Anne Neville for the death of Henry VI.


Thou wast provoked by thy bloody mind. Which never dreamt on aught but butcheries: Didst thou not kill this king?


I grant ye.

Edward IV is more of a suspect for Henry VI’s death, having more to gain by it.  Even so, Thomas More’s History of Richard III explicitly states that Richard killed Henry (which explains why Shakespeare picked this up for his play), an opinion More might have derived from Philippe de Commynes’ Memoir.

Philippe de Commynes (a.k.a. ‘Philip de Comines’) was a diplomat and writer in the courts of Burgundy and France, and lived during the years 1447 – 1511, so he was contemporary with the time of Richard III.  He says:

“I had almost forgot to acquaint you that king Edward finding king Henry in London, took him along with him to the fight:  this king Henry was a very weak prince, and almost a changeling, and, if what was told me be true, after the battle was over, the duke of Gloucester, who was king Edward’s brother, and afterwards called king Richard, slew this poor king Henry with his own hand, or caused him to be carried into some private place, and stood by himself, while he was killed.”  [The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Book III, (London:  Printed by W. McDowell, Pemberton Row, Fleet Street, for J. Davis, Military Chronicle Office, 1817),  p. 168.]



Philippe de Commynes, c. 1447-1511

Note that de Commynes says, “if what was told me be true”…a frank statement acknowledging that his source may or may not be reliable.

It’s interesting to see what a foreign king thought about what was happening in England at the time Richard III took the crown.  Philippe de Commynes writes of the reaction of Louis XI, King of France…

Our king was presently informed of king Edward’s death; but he still kept it secret, and expressed no manner of joy upon hearing the news of it.  Not long after, he received letters from the duke of Gloucester, who was made king, styled himself Richard III. and had barbarously murdered his two nephews.  This king Richard desired to live in the same friendship with our king as his brother had done, and I believe would have had his pension continued; but our king looked upon him as an inhuman and cruel person, and would neither answer his letters nor give audience to his ambassador; for king Richard, after his brother’s death, had sworn allegiance to his nephew as his king and sovereign, and yet committed that inhuman action not long after; and in full parliament caused two of his brother’s daughters, who were remaining, to be degraded, and declared illegitimate upon a pretence which he justified by the bishop of Bath…  [The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Book VI, Chapter IX, p. 359.]

It would be helpful to know where King Louis acquired his information about the ‘barbarous murder’ of Richard’s two nephews.  We know that Henry of Richmond (later Henry VII) fled to Brittany when Richard’s brother, Edward IV, regained the throne in 1471, and that he lived there for most of the next 14 years under the protection of the Duke of Brittany, Francis II.  Did the report of Richard murdering his nephews come to King Louis XI of France via Richard’s enemies?

Not only was there no documented proof of the deaths of the princes, it seems that Henry VII never launched an investigation into their supposed murders upon his accession to the throne after defeating Richard at Bosworth field.  According to Horace Walpole in his Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third…

No mention of such a murder was made in the very act of parliament that attainted Richard himself, and which would have been the most heinous aggravation of his crimes.  And no prosecution of the supposed assassins was even thought of till eleven years afterwards, on the appearance of Perkin Warbeck…

Perkin Warbeck presented himself (in 1490/91) as the younger of the two ‘murdered’ nephews, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, returned to England after living abroad.  He was captured and interrogated by Henry in 1497.

Henry had never been certain of the deaths of the princes, nor ever interested himself to prove that both were dead, till he had great reason to believe that one of them was alive.  [Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third]

Philippe de Commynes’ report of King Louis XI’s response to Richard’s diplomatic overtures is interesting in terms of timing.  Richard began his reign on June 26, 1483, and his coronation was July 6, 1483.  King Louis died on August 30, 1483.  Below is Philippe de Commynes’ assessment of King Louis XI’s qualities…

In all of them there was a mixture of bad as well as good, for they were but mortals.  But without flattery I may say of our king, that he was possessed of more qualifications suitable to the majesty and office of a prince than any of the rest, for I knew the greatest part of them, and was acquainted with most of their transactions; so that I do not speak altogether by guess or hear-say.  [The Historical Memoirs of Philip de Comines, Book VI, Chapter X, p. 361.]

Philippe de Commynes seems well aware of the temptation to report ‘guess or hear-say,’ and delivers his lively account of events with wide-ranging information of both anecdotal and historical character, enriched by an analytical and perceptive human viewpoint.  He is considered to be “one of the first of the moderns, for his manner and veracity.”   [from the Preface to the Memoirs]

It is an unfortunate omission that de Commynes could not tell us how Louis XI came by the information that Richard “had barbarously murdered his two nephews.”  In any case, it could only be ‘guess or hearsay’, since there was no official announcement of their demise–natural or unnatural.

Thomas More’s account, on the other hand, begins with a flagrant inaccuracy, in that he says, “Kyng Edwarde of that name the fowrth, after that hee hadde lyued fiftie and three yaeres, seuen monethes, and sixe dayes…”  [More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, p. 1.]

In fact, King Edward IV was not 53 years, seven months and six days old, he was closing in on his 41st birthday at the time of his death on April 9, 1483 (his date of birth was April 28, 1442).  More’s statement of Edward’s lifespan is strangely precise for being completely wrong.  One almost wonders whether this learned man was leaving his readers a clue to regard the body of the text in the same light as his opening sentence–with scepticism.

With such an inauspicious beginning to More’s account, some doubt might naturally attach to the subsequent information, although it’s difficult to argue with this passage, which refers to the young princes, Richard’s nephews:

For Richarde the Duke of Gloucester, by nature theyr vncle, by office theire protectoure, to their father beholden, to them selfe by othe and allegyaunce bownden, al the bandes broken that binden manne and manne together, withoute anye respecte of Godde or the worlde, vnnaturallye contriued to bereue them, not onelye their dignitie, but also their liues.” [More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, p. 4.]

Modernized below:

For Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, by nature their uncle, by office their protector, to their father beholden, to themselves by oath and allegiance bound, all the bands broken that bind man and man together, without any respect of God or the world, unnaturally contrived to bereave them, not only of  their dignity, but also their lives.

Prior to his own violent end, Richard himself never made any attempt to explain the disappearance of his nephews–at least no attempt that is visible to us.  When it seemed apparent that they were dead [the questionable true identity of Perkin Warbeck aside], everyone was left to wonder how, why, when…and even, perhaps, where.  It seems likely that their end came at the Tower of London, since that was the last place they were seen alive.  ‘When’ is an open question, as may be ‘how’—although More claims to know the specifics from a confession by two of the participants in the nefarious deed.  That leaves ‘why’–and too many people had an answer for that.

The Two Princes in the Tower, 1483, by Sir Johb Everett Millais, 1878, public domain

The Two Princes in the Tower, 1483, by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878

Thomas More writes this condemnation of Richard, and yet adds at the end that some people doubt that the princes were killed during Richard’s reign:

Now fell their mischiefs thick. And as the thing evil gotten is never well kept, through all the time of his reign there never ceased cruel death and slaughter, till his own destruction ended it. But as he finished his time with the best death and the most righteous, that is to say, his own, so began he with the most piteous and wicked: I mean the lamentable murder of his innocent nephews – the young King and his tender brother.  Whose death and final misfortune has nonetheless so far come in question that some remain yet in doubt whether they were in his days destroyed or not.  [from More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, p. 93…my update of the language]

More goes on to write this account of the deaths of the young princes…

For Sir James Tyrrell devised that they should be murdered in their beds. To the execution whereof, he appointed Miles Forest, one of the four that kept them, a fellow made for murder before time.  To him he joined one John Dighton, his own housekeeper, a big, broad, square strong knave. Then all the others being removed from them, this Miles Forest and John Dighton about midnight (the innocent children lying in their beds) came into the chamber, and suddenly wrapped them up among the bedclothes – so bewrapped them and entangled them, keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls into the joys of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodies dead in the bed.

Which after that the wretches perceived, first by the struggling with the pains of death, and after long lying still, to be thoroughly dead, they laid their bodies naked out upon the bed, and fetched Sir James to see them. Who, upon the sight of them, caused those murderers to bury them at the stair foot, appropriately deep in the ground, under a great heap of stones.

Then rode Sir James in great haste to King Richard and showed him all the manner of the murder, who gave him great thanks and, as some say, there made him knight. But he allowed not, as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he would have them buried in a better place because they were a king’s sons. Lo, the honorable station of a king! Whereupon they say that a priest of Sir Robert Brakenbury took up the bodies again and secretly put them in such place that only he knew and that, by the occasion of his death, could never since come to light.

[More, The Historie of Kyng Rycharde III, p. 84, my update of the language]

More gives as his source for this information the confessions of Sir James Tyrrell and Dighton as they were held in the Tower for treason against Henry VII.  Tyrrell was subsequently beheaded for his treason on May 2, 1502, approximately 19 years after the alleged murders of the princes.  Dighton was released, as More says, “…in dede yet walketh on alive in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye.” [More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde p. 85]   (More evidently does not rate Dighton’s prospects in life very highly.)   No documents of Tyrrell’s or Dighton’s confessions, if such there were, survive.

If More, a lawyer, heard–or heard of–these confessions and intended to make them public, wouldn’t a signed document be useful as proof?

Very truth is it and well known, that at such time as Sir James Tyrell was in the Tower, for Treason committed against the most famous prince king Henry the seventh, both Dighton and he were examined, and confessed the murder in manner above written but whither the bodes were removed they could nothing tell.  And thus as I have learned of them that knew much and had little cause to lie…  [More’s Historie of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde p. 84]

It’s still ‘hearsay’ as we would call it today, unless there is a document to substantiate it,  and More is not above using sources of dubious authenticity (again, assuming that he had actually written this account).  More has said that he “heard by credible report of such as wer secrete with his chamberers, that after this abhominable deede done, he never hadde quiet in his minde, hee never thought himself sure.”  [More’s Historie…p. 85.] Evidently More spoke to someone who spoke to someone who imagined that the king was troubled in his mind owing to some restlessness during the night–no doubt exaggerated in the telling.  Polydore Vergil wrote something similar.

While it’s impossible to come to any irrefutable conclusions about Richard III’s involvement in his nephews’ deaths, we do know that he took steps to have their Woodville relatives eliminated quite expeditiously, and with little semblance of a legal trial.  On June 25, 1483, Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers, young Edward V’s maternal uncle; Richard Grey, the king’s half-brother; and Thomas Vaughan, the king’s chamberlain, were all executed at Pontefract Castle, on Richard’s orders, for a supposed ‘treasonous’ plot to deny him his role as Lord Protector.

Lord Hastings, who was Master of the Mint and Lord Chamberlain to Richard’s brother, the late King Edward IV, seemed to be a foot in both camps.  He supported Edward IV’s son, Edward V, as the successor, but he appears to have also seen a Woodville (young Edward V’s mother’s family) conspiracy to increase their power and influence during the king’s minority.  From all reports, Hastings was a loyal, trustworthy man, who would not, however, have supported Richard’s ambition to be king in his nephew’s place.  During a council meeting at the Tower of London on June 13, 1483, Richard accused him of conspiring with the Woodvilles, and had him summarily executed in the courtyard at that very moment, in rather barbaric fashion.

However, there may have been reasons for Richard’s evident suspicion of the Woodvilles.  When Edward IV died, Richard was in the north of the country, returning from a successful expedition against the Scots.  The young Prince Edward was with his uncle, Earl Rivers, at Ludlow.  On the death of her husband…

The queen wrote instantly to her brother to bring up the young king to London, with a train of two thousand horse:  a fact allowed by historians, and which, whether a prudent caution or not, was the first overt act of the new reign; and likely to strike, as it did strike, the duke of Gloucester and the ancient nobility with a jealousy, that the queen intended to exclude them from the administration, and to govern in concert with her own family.  It is not improper to observe that no precedent authorized her to assume such power. […]  Yet all her conduct intimated designs of governing by force in the name of her son.  [Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, (Published 1768).]

Also, while we look askance at these summary executions, we must consider the times in which Richard III lived, “…we must not judge of those times by the present.  Neither the crown nor the great men were restrained by sober established forms and proceedings as they are at present…” [Walpole, Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, (Published 1768).]

Now to move ahead in time and review the remarkable excavation by the University of Leicester on the site of the Grey Friars friary in Leicester in August of 2012.

Grey Friars was originally built in the first half of the 13th century, and named for the Franciscan order, whose garments were a grey colour.  The buildings were demolished in 1538, and the building materials used in the construction of other buildings.

In the early 17th century, former mayor of Leicester, Robert Herrick, built a house on the site, with a three-foot pillar erected in the garden containing the inscription, “here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England”.  (As reported by the father of the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren.)

Subsequent subdivision and selling of the land resulted in the displacement and loss of the pillar, so that Richard III’s final resting place was no longer known.

Parts of the site were built over in the succeeding centuries…houses in the 18th century, a schoolhouse in the 19th century, and offices in the 20th century.  The unbuilt land became a car parking lot for the Leicester City Council offices adjacent to it.

The Richard III Society in England, under the leadership of Philippa Langley, were the originators of the project to find the remains of Richard III.  The University of Leicester provided all the knowledge and expertise, and broadened the scope to encompass an investigation of the Franciscan friary and its church to gain a better understanding of these structures dating from medieval Leicester.

[This information comes from the University of Leicester website:   https://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/, and all photos of the bones and excavation are used by kind permission of the University of Leicester.]

Three trenches were dug with a north-south orientation, in the expectation that the buildings would be orientated east-west, and therefore the trenches might transect any evidence of wall constructions.  The hope was to locate the choir of the church, the most likely spot for Richard III’s remains—IF they were there, and it was no certainty that they were.

excavation, Leicester

Excavating a Trench in Leicester Car Park

Miraculously, the initial digging of Trench 1 uncovered what was later found to be the skeleton of Richard III.   Since it was early in the excavation, and there were no other structures as yet identified to provide a location for the remains, they were carefully covered up again.  When the cloister walk and choir locations were discovered, the importance of the skeleton in relation to them prompted a careful exhumation, with all precautions taken to preserve DNA integrity…latex gloves, full body suit, etc.

The body was seen to have been placed in the ground with little ceremony, since the head was wedged at an angle to the body against one end.  The ground had been disturbed by the foundations of Victorian buildings just centimetres away, and the feet of the skeleton were missing as a result of this later construction.


Bones of Richard III

There was also 19th century brickwork just 90 mm above the skeleton in places and if the Victorian workmen had dug any deeper or wider, the remains might have been severely damaged or destroyed.

The spinal column of the skeleton showed a pronounced curvature, which was determined to be due to scoliosis.

Judging by the length of the thigh bone, Richard would have stood about 5’8” if his back had been straight.  The scoliosis would have reduced his apparent height significantly, making him much shorter than the average man in the medieval period.  (By contrast, his brother, King Edward IV, was said to be unusually tall, at 6’4”.)  Richard’s right shoulder would have been noticeably higher than his left.  We can compare this finding with More’s description of Richard III on page 5 of his Historie:  “…little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crooked-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard favoured of visage…”  More’s source evidently got the higher shoulder wrong.


The shape of the individual vertebra supports the finding of scoliosis (photo below).  Furthermore, this was determined to be idiopathic adolescent onset scoliosis which is not due to any known cause but may have a genetic component.  The two vertebrae pictured below show signs of osteoarthritis…

two vertebrae, osteoarthritis

(Richard has my sympathy in this, since I also have idiopathic adolescent onset scoliosis, and osteoarthritis as a result.)

The skull showed evidence of the sort of injuries which would have occurred in battle, but not to a man wearing the type of helmet used with the body armour of the time.  Richard’s head protection may have been dislodged during the fighting, or forcibly removed.


Richard III armour

A massive, fatal blow to the base of the skull (#5 in the photo below) was likely caused by a heavy-bladed weapon such as a halberd or an axe, wielded with force.  It completely sliced away a portion of the skull.  The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft (see insert in photo).

Fatal injuries and halberd

The other fatal wound is indicated by the smaller, jagged hole (#6 in the photo), which may have been made with a sword.  Marks on the interior of the skull in relation to this indicate it penetrated to a depth of 10.5 cm.

Another blow shaved off a piece of skull, but would not have been fatal:

bladed weapon clipped skull, shaved off top layer of bone

Bladed weapon shaved off piece of skull.

There was a slice into the jawbone by a bladed weapon:

injury, blade cut right side of chin2

Injury to right side of chin: blade cut.

Another wound to the pelvis indicated a possible post-mortem mark of disrespect to the body—a stabbing to the buttocks, as mentioned earlier.  This type of injury would not have been possible if the body was encased in armour.  It may have happened after death, when the body was stripped naked.

Burton’s The Description of Leicestershire (1642 edition), tells us, “No king ever made so degraded a spectacle…”

The body of King Richardinsult weakness is highly blameable

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, pp. 126-127.]

There were other injuries as well–a small, round puncture wound to the crown of the skull, for example.  The totality of injuries tells us that Richard III was ferociously attacked from all sides by multiple people using a variety of weapons.

Richard might now be said to have been in the midst of a fire, and that of his own kindling.  He continued his ferocity till his powers and his friends failing, for every one of his followers were either fallen or fled, he stood single in the midst of his enemies, when, becoming less desperate through weakness, many durst approach within the length of a sword, who some minutes before dare not…

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, p. 118]

For the purpose of establishing the identity of the skeleton, Dr. Turi King of Leicester University took a tooth and a portion of the femur to grind up for an attempt at extracting DNA for sequencing.  It was by no means certain that any DNA could be found to be of use…much depends on soil conditions and suchlike for DNA to have been preserved in a useable state.  The tooth was potentially a good source, since the DNA would have been protected from deterioration by the tooth enamel.

Once useable DNA was found, two descendants from Richard III’s sister Anne (Michael Ibsen and Wendy Duldig), contributed their DNA,  first to compare with one another (they matched), and then to compare with the skeleton (which they also matched).

Wendy Duldig and Michael Ibsen

Wendy Duldig and Michael Ibsen, (image by kind permission of the University of Leicester)

Since Richard had no surviving offspring, his sister’s descendants were of prime importance, and the mitochondrial DNA, which passes unchanged through the female line, was key to this testing.

A mother’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is shared by all her children, but is only passed down to the next generation by females.  So Richard III had the same mtDNA as his sister, Anne of York, who passed it to her daughter, who passed it to her daughter, and so on.  Finally, that same mtDNA reached Joy Ibsen and her children, Michael, Jeff and Leslie.


Michael Ibsen is a cabinet maker from London, Ontario, and Wendy Duldig is an Australian now living in London, England.  They are two of only four people in the world who share Richard III’s mitochondrial DNA, amongst the millions of descendants of the Plantagenet dynasty.  None of these four people have had children, so that the opportunity of testing for identification based on Richard III’s DNA ends with this generation.

Not only was it extremely fortunate that the remains of Richard III were found, it is also fortuitous that they were found at this time, and not a hundred years from now.

This is Michael Ibsen’s Line:

Katherine Roët (Swynford) (+ John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster) -> Lady Joan de Beaufort -> Lady Cecily Neville -> Anne of York (1439-1476) -> Anne St. Leger (1476-1526) -> Catherine Manners (c. 1510-c. 1547) -> Barbara Constable (c. 1530-c. 1561) -> Margaret Babthorpe (c. 1550-1628) -> Barbara Chomley (c. 1575-1618) -> Barbara Belasyse (1609-1641) -> Barbara Slingsby (1633-?) -> Barbara Talbot (1665-1763) -> Barbara Yelverton (c. 1692-1724) -> Barbara Calthorpe (c. 1716-1782) -> Barbara Gough Calthorpe (1746-1826) -> Ann Spooner (1780-1873) -> Charlotte Vansittart Neale (1817-1881) -> Charlotte Vansittart Frere (1846-1916) -> Muriel Stokes (1884-1961) -> Joy M Brown (1926-2008) -> Michael Ibsen

This is Wendy Duldig’s Line:

Katherine Roët (Swynford) (+ John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster) -> Lady Joan de Beaufort -> Lady Cecily Neville -> Anne of York (1439-1476) -> Anne St. Leger (1476-1526) -> Catherine Manners (c. 1510-c. 1547) -> Everhilda Constable (c. 1535-?) -> Katherine Crathorne (c. 1555-1605) -> Everhilda Creyke à Everhilda Maltby (1605-c. 1670) -> Frances Wentworth (1631-1693) -> Dorothy Grantham (1659-1717) -> Frances Holt (1681-1771) -> Frances Winstanley (c. 1703-1766) -> Frances Truman (1726-1801) -> Frances Read (1750-1820) -> Harriet Villebois (1774-1821) -> Harriet Plunkett (1807-1864) -> Frances Gardiner (1828-1907) -> Sophia Lysaght (1861-1945) -> Marjorie Moore (1891-1954) -> Gabrielle Whitehorn (1928-2004) -> Wendy Duldig

As might be expected from rival claimants to the throne, Richard III and Henry, Earl of Richmond (later Henry VII), were second cousins, once removed.

John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Katherine Roët  (a.k.a. Katherine Swynford, from her first marriage), were:

Richard’s Great-Grandparents, and

Henry’s Great-Great Grandparents

Richard III and Henry VII

King Richard III (1452-1485)    King Henry VII (1457-1509)

Here’s William Burton’s colourful assessment of their characters:

The ruling passion of Henry, after he grasped the sceptre was avarice  Had he moved in a servile state, he would like other misers, (the dregs of existence), have denied himself common support, dined upon offals, and his small savings would at his death, have been found in a rag.  And Richard’s was ambition  This is a laudable passion when guided by reason, but being possessed in the extreme, and under no controul [sic], it proved destructive to many, and in the end to him.

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, pp. 65-66.]

Burton adds the following to his character analysis and comparison of Richard and Henry:

The crown was now to be disputed with the utmost acrimony, by two of the ablest politicians that ever wore one; they were both wise, and both crafty; equally ambitious and equally strangers to probity.  Richard was better versed in arms, Henry was better served.  Richard was brave, Henry a coward.  Richard was about 5 feet 4, rather runted, but only made crooked by his enemies; and wanted 6 weeks of 33.  Henry was 27, slender, and near 5 feet 9, with a saturnine countenance, yellow hair, and grey eyes.  Richard was a man of the deepest penetration! perfectly adapted to form, and execute a plan; for he generally carried what another durst not attempt…

[Burton, The Description of Leicestershire, p. 101]

It’s interesting that DNA analysis points to a 96% probability that Richard III was blue-eyed, and a 77% probability that he was blond-haired.  [King, T. E. et al. Identification of the remains of King Richard III. Nat. Commun. 5:5631 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6631 (2014).]

Most blond hair darkens with age, which explains why Richard’s portraits–none of them contemporary–show him with dark hair.

Apparently the arch-top portrait of Richard III (c. 1510-1540) in the collection of The Society of Antiquaries of London comes the closest in representing Richard III’s actual appearance (see below).  This portrait is likely a copy of a prototype painted during the king’s lifetime, and unique in that it underwent relatively little overpainting throughout the intervening centuries.  Even this small amount was removed by professional conservators in recent years.    [https://www.sal.org.uk/news/2014/12/societys-arched-topped-portrait-of-richard-iii-matches-dna-predicted-eye-hair-colour/]

Richard III portrait from SAL

Richard III Portrait, c. 1510-1540, (By kind permission of The Society of Antiquaries of London)

The Society of Antiquaries of London website:  https://www.sal.org.uk/

Even though we can probably absolve Richard III of many of the killings for which Shakespeare accuses him, he does seem to have set about eliminating his nephews’ supporters quite ruthlessly.

Also, albeit with some difficulty, he managed to pry his younger nephew, the 9-year-old Duke of York, away from Queen Dowager Elizabeth Woodville, the boy’s mother.  She had kept her younger son with her in sanctuary, but eventually, with assurances that he would be safe, she let him go to be with his brother in the Tower.   At that point Richard had both princes.  If his intention was to eliminate them as rival successors to the throne, he needed them both.

Thus Richerd, without assent of the commonaltie, by might and will of certane noblemen of his faction, enjoyned the realme, contrary to the law of God and man; who, not long after, having establyshyd all thinges at London acording to his owne fantasy, tooke his journey to york, and first he went streight to Glocester, where the while he taryed the haynous guylt of wicked conscyence dyd so freat him every moment as that he lyvyd in contynuall feare, for thexpelling wherof by any kind of meane he determynyd by death to dispatche his nephewys, because so long as they lyvyd he could never be out of hazard;…

[Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History, pp. 187-188.]

We might ask Polydore Vergil how he came to know that Richard’s “heinous guilt of wicked conscience did so fret him every moment as that he lived in continual fear…”  It seems a thing unlikely to have been known by anyone other than the sufferer.

Vergil goes on to describe in rather dramatic fashion the reaction of the people, and the boys’ mother, when—according to Vergil—the news of the deaths of the princes was made known…

But whan the fame of this notable fowle fact was dispersyd throwgh the realme, so great griefe stroke generally to the hartes of all men, that the same, subdewing all feare, they wept every wher, and whan they could wepe no more, they cryed owt, ‘Ys ther trewly any man lyving so farre at enemytie with God, with all that holy ys and relygyouse, so utter enemy to man, who wold not have abhorryd the myschief of so fowle a murder?’ But specyally the quenes frinds and the chyldrens exclamyd against him, ‘What will this man do to others who thus cruelly, without any ther desert, hath killyd hys owne kynsfolk?’ assuring themselves that a marvalous tyrany had now invadyd the commanwelth. Emongest all others the news herof was unto thynfortunate mother, who yeat remanyd in sayntuary, as yt wer the very stroke of death: for as soone as she had intelligence how her soons wer bereft thys lyfe, at the very fyrst motion therof, the owtrageousnes of the thinge drove her into suche passion as for feare furthwith she fell in a swowne, and lay lyveles a good whyle; after cooming to hir self, she wepeth, she cryeth owt alowd, and with lamentable shrykes made all the house ring, she stryk hir brest, teare and cut hir heire, and, overcommyd in fyne with dolor, prayeth also hir owne death, cawlyng by name now and than emong hir most deare chyldren, and condemning hirself for a mad woman, for that (being deceavyd by false promyses) she had delyveryd hir yownger soon owt of sayntuary, to be murderyd of his enemy, who, next unto God and hir soons, thought hir self most injuryd; but after long lamentation, whan otherwise she cowld no be revengyd, she besowght help of God (the revenger of falshed and treason) as assuryd that he wold once revenge the same.      [Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s English History, p. 189.]

Again, according to Polydore Vergil (and we need to bear in mind that he is King Henry VII’s agent, and therefore not sympathetic to Richard III), the king sent an order to the lieutenant of the Tower to murder the princes, and the lieutenant could not bring himself to commit so heinous an act.  The king then ordered James Tyrrell to the Tower to carry out the command–which was supposedly done.  Richard III then let the news of their deaths circulate amongst the people (according to Vergil), so that they would now understand that since no male issue of King Edward were left alive, they might, “with better mind and good will bear and sustain his government.”  However, as Vergil says, this news was apparently received by the populace with great sadness, outrage, and horror.

This would have been such an astonishing announcement–official or unofficial–that had it truly been done, there would certainly have been a record of it somewhere.  But there is not.

Vergil goes on to say that the former queen and mother of the murdered princes was overcome not only with grief but with remorse for handing over her younger son (after supposedly being pressured to do so, and deceived by false promises for his safety) to be killed.


Elizabeth Woodville (ca 1437-1492), Edward IV’s Wife and Queen, Mother of ‘the Princes in the Tower’

IF Elizabeth Woodville believed her two sons to have been murdered on the orders of Richard III, we might wonder about her reaction to the appearance of the pretender, ‘Perkin Warbeck’ in 1490/91.  Elizabeth died in 1492, and so she would have known before her death about Perkin Warbeck claiming to be her younger son.  Would there have been any communication between the two of them?  Would she have recognized him had she seen him seven years after his disappearance from the Tower?  I’m inclined to think she would still have known whether he was genuinely her son, in spite of the changes seven years would have made.  It seems that Henry VII was sufficiently alarmed by Warbeck that he eventually obtained–or forced–a confession from him that he was an imposter, and had him executed on a charge of attempting to escape from the Tower in November of 1499.

As we’ve seen, there are many unanswered questions yet.  Leading the quest to re-assess the life and reign of Richard III are the members of The Richard III Society.  This is an organization with branches in various countries (Britain and Canada for two) that has attempted to redress some of the false accusations and aspersions on the character of Richard III.

Their patron, the present Richard, Duke of Gloucester, sums up their mission: “… the purpose—and indeed the strength—of the Richard III Society derives from the belief that the truth is more powerful than lies; a faith that even after all these centuries the truth is important. It is proof of our sense of civilised values that something as esoteric and as fragile as reputation is worth campaigning for.”

It becomes an even more difficult mission when an important playwright like Shakespeare embeds a host of misconceptions in a great work of literature.  Shakespeare’s Richard III is performed in theatres and on film to this day, and Shakespeare’s plays are still (to my knowledge) entrenched in secondary school English studies.  The lines between fiction and fact can become blurred when a play is based on actual events from the past with the names of historical personages assigned to players.  Given that many historical accounts already contain conjecture, even propaganda, a theatrical reconstruction takes us another step further away from the truth.  The need for heightened drama and exaggeration for entertainment value can further distort an already distorted account of what really happened and why.

And which of the two will be the account we will be more likely to remember?  Would it be the school textbook or the Stratford Festival Theatre production of the Shakespearean play?

I think it is fair to say that Shakespeare embellished unreliable historical accounts for dramatic effect, and that Richard III perhaps did not deserve the entirety of the villainy accorded to him.  Whether or not Richard could be held accountable for the deaths of his nephews (which would indeed have been a horrible crime), it appears that the historians/chroniclers of the 16th century did let their imaginations run amok—and ‘Shakespeare’ (whomever Shakespeare might have been, since we have questions about him as well), ran with it.

Shakespeare’s primary purpose was to provide entertainment, although his plays contain great insight into human nature in all its variations and permutations.  He might also have expected Sir Thomas More’s account of Richard III’s reign to be factual, given More’s reputation.  More was not only a well educated man who promoted learning, but also a statesman whose uncompromising adherence to his religious views cost him his life.  That Shakespeare might have expanded on More’s account should not be surprising, since the general condemnation of Richard III’s character implicitly granted free rein to the playwright’s imagination.  From what Shakespeare would have read about Richard III, he might have deemed him capable of anything.

I took the following from the Richard III Society of Canada’s website:

“Richard was indeed responsible for the deaths of the Woodville conspirators Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan. The Woodville attempt in the late spring of 1483 to have Prince Edward of York crowned and Richard’s position as Lord Protector reduced to a mere title, resulted in the deaths of the three for treason at Pontefract castle, or as Shakespeare has his characters call it, Pomfret.”

The “Woodville conspirators” were the young King Edward V’s family and supporters, and Edward was the rightful heir to the crown.  However, Richard was appointed Lord Protector for his nephew by his brother, King Edward IV, and Richard had a duty of responsibility to the 13-year-old king.  Had Richard as Lord Protector been shunted aside by the Woodvilles, young Edward would have been under the influence of his mother’s family to a much greater extent.  Richard was used to being in a position of power and trust during the reign of Edward IV, and would naturally be unwilling to relinquish it.  This put him dangerously at odds with the Woodvilles.

This passage (below) from Walpole’s Historic Doubts on the Life and Reign of King Richard the Third, is, I believe, key to understanding the events of this time.  The Woodvilles were elevated in social standing when Edward IV married Elizabeth Woodville, causing great consternation amongst aristocrats (owing to her position as one of the minor nobility).  This was compounded by the fact that the powerful Earl of Warwick was at that time negotiating a match for Edward with a French princess, and would not have appreciated appearing foolish and inconsequential to the French.

The ambition of the queen and her family alarmed the princes and the nobility:  Gloucester, Buckingham, Hastings, and many more had checked those attempts.  The next step was to secure the regency:  but none of these acts could be done without grievous provocation to the queen.  As soon as her son should come of age, she might regain her power and the means of revenge.  Self-security prompted the princes and lords to guard against this reverse, and what was equally dangerous to the queen, the depression of her fortune called forth and revived all the hatred of her enemies.  Her marriage had given universal offence to the nobility, and been the source of all the late disturbances and bloodshed.  [Walpole, Historic Doubts…]

And did Richard orchestrate the Titulus Regius that declared his brother’s children illegitimate (owing to their father’s supposed engagement to another woman before marrying their mother) and therefore not entitled to inherit the throne?  Well, it’s another piece of the puzzle that fits.  If it’s true that Dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville attempted to push Richard aside after the death of her husband–this is how he pushed back.  With the Titulus Regius her marriage was discredited, and her power base neutralized.

A defense for Richard has been that once his nephews were declared illegitimate, there would have been no reason to kill them.  However, it would always have remained a possibility, if the young princes had lived long enough to challenge the Titulus Regius, for there to have been future wars of succession.

And as for whether or not they were actually dead during Richard’s reign, the key question must be:  why is it that when (if) Richard III was widely believed to have murdered his nephews he did not produce them publicly to disprove the allegations?  We know that he didn’t.  He probably didn’t because he couldn’t.  And he probably couldn’t because they were dead.  This, of course, assumes that he was “widely believed to have murdered his nephews.”  We have that from the “historians” working for Richard’s successor, Henry VII.  But is it true?

If his former ally, the Duke of Buckingham, had committed the murders, Richard III could have brought this fact to public attention in 1483 when Buckingham was disgraced and executed for treason.  Buckingham would have been a convenient scapegoat–guilty or not guilty–but Richard did not use him for this purpose.  Possibly Richard knew it would have diminished his own authority in the minds of the people for Buckingham to have acted independently in such a serious matter.  They also might ask why Buckingham was not punished if Richard was aware that he was the killer.  And then if Richard didn’t know of Buckingham’s actions at the time, why didn’t he?  Implicating Buckingham would still not explain why Richard made no effort to discover the whereabouts of the missing princes, or attempt to explain their absence.

Other than circumstantial evidence and motive, there’s nothing more to implicate Richard.  He controlled access to the princes and their safety was in his hands (circumstantial), and their murder would result in the removal of a future threat to his position as monarch (motive).  And so it does seem likely.

As it happened, Richard’s own reputation and lack of alliances amongst his nobles may have been the greater threat to the continuity of his reign, as can be seen from the results at Bosworth field.  If he believed himself to be reviled by his people (as say the accounts that profess to know his mind on the matter), only a brave and heroic action which would definitively proclaim him victor over his enemy would secure his position.  And yet, as William Burton’s, The Description of Leicestershire states, “That Richard was not so little beloved as our historians represent, appears by the veneration in which he was held, long after his death, in the northern countries where he resided in youth…”  [p. 131]

But the same publication summarizes Richard’s downfall in this way:

Here then must terminate...[Burton’s The Description of Leicestershire, p. 106.]

We know for a fact (all sources agreeing) that Richard came to a courageous end in battle, after which his dead body was shown the greatest disrespect.  That disrespect continued over the subsequent centuries with the general condemnation of his supposed actions and imagined character.  Many would say that he was deservedly maligned, based on his guilt for the fate of his nephews–whether he was directly responsible for their deaths or not.

That he was ultimately responsible for their welfare cannot be denied, and if he brought about their deaths, we might see a glimmer of retributive justice if we believe that Richard III lost the support he needed to win the Battle of Bosworth owing to his treatment of his nephews.  That Richard was also not accepted as king by the kings of other countries seems likely in view of Philippe de Commynes’ account of French King Louis XI’s refusal to acknowledge Richard, or to receive his ambassador, after being told that Richard killed his nephews and took the crown for himself.

Two years after Richard’s coronation, when Henry of Richmond was looking for French support in his bid to challenge Richard for the throne in England, King Louis XI’s son, Charles VIII, was on the throne of France.  Coincidentally, Charles VIII of France and the murdered Edward V of England were both born in 1470, and both were 13 years old in 1483 when their fathers died and the boys succeeded to the thrones of their respective countries–although Edward was declared illegitimate before his coronation.  The French provided ships and men to Henry, and one wonders if the French monarchy’s distaste for Richard was a factor in their decision to assist Henry.

It might be seen that the two young princes in the Tower indirectly brought about Richard III’s own violent death.

With Richard III’s remains recovered and respectfully reinterred 527 years after his death, we’ve had an opportunity to learn much about this infamous 15th-century monarch.  We know from his bones that Richard ate luxury items such as fresh fish and game birds, and increased his consumption of wine in his last years.  We know from evidence in the burial pit that he had a roundworm infection.  We know the extent of his scoliosis and osteoarthritis.  We know of his bone-related battle injuries.  We know that he was unusually slender, and 5’8” tall, but that his scoliosis would have shortened his stature.  We’re pretty sure he was blue-eyed, and that his original hair colour was likely blond before it darkened with age.  We know that he was not (Shakespeare, please note), a hunchback, nor did he have a withered arm.  And we know, at last, thanks to The Richard III Society and the University of Leicester, where he was buried after the Battle of Bosworth.

But we do not know, for a certainty, whether he ordered the murders of his nephews, nor where their remains might be found.  The skull unearthed from the Greyfriar’s site in Leicester might once have contained that knowledge, but it does no longer.

And there are some secrets the bones will not tell.